Business people often ask me why they should even give diversity any thought. There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all answer but I frequently answer that diversity can help companies harness the many gifts and talents that their workforce possesses in order to build a stronger organization. When we identify and understand all the strengths that our employees bring to the workplace we can use them to achieve anything we want to. Diversity has gotten a bad rap because of the way it’s been presented in many instances. The perception of diversity is that some trainer comes into your company and tries to impose some arbitrary set of values that don’t necessarily reflect those of the company. This is a very reasonable perception, after all, who wants to change their values just because they went to a training? A more helpful focus is to emphasize that businesses and organizations don’t have to give up the ideals that are important to them. Diversity can actually help organizations clearly define what’s important to them, build on their employees’ talents and help everyone work collaboratively.
If you think about it, we’ve always had diversity in the workplace. Every time someone new gets hired it changes the composition of the company. Every new belief that comes in alters the workplace landscape. There are no two people who are alike in a workplace. No two managers think the exact same way. All workplaces have a wide variety of characters with all kinds of outlooks and work styles. Even in workplaces where everyone looks the same you’re still going to have people who behave in very different ways.
So diversity is really about working with this cast of characters in ways that help the organization. A good working definition might be: Using all your people resources to their best advantage.
In my experience, companies can incorporate inclusiveness into their regular operations without altering their workplace. The approach I find works very well is to combine the values of the organization and its top management with those of all its workers. This creates a new set of values that more accurately reflects where the company is at this very moment and includes the talents of all involved. This sounds like a tall order but it is realistically achievable if you have commitment at the top. Nothing changes in the corporate culture if the people calling the shots don’t support the program.
It’s important that companies design a diversity program that produces measurable benefits to the management and employees. These outcomes affect everything from morale to productivity to loyalty. Organizations intrinsically understand that certain policies and behaviors lead in one direction while others create an entirely different result. Each company gets results based on the actions they take. The following are some outcomes that companies can expect from a well-designed diversity program that doesn’t clobber everyone over the head with what they’re supposed to believe.
1. Increased trust at all levels.
2. Greater collaboration and stronger teams.
3. Durable resolution of differences between employees.
4. Improved communication between employees.
5. Better understanding of the strengths everyone brings to the table.
These results are within your grasp at this very moment. Think of how your company would function if you achieved any of these ideas. How would that impact your success? What if your company excelled in even one of these areas? Imagine what would happen if you achieved all five?
Companies who commit to making diversity a positive force in the workplace find out that it helps them succeed on a different level. It doesn’t have to be painful. Businesses can move in this direction at any time by planning and implementing a diversity strategy that, over time, builds on existing policies and adds additional components that lead to greater success.