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Sep112015

A Q&A on Diversity

I was asked to do a Q&A for Real Business. They used some of the answers here but bellow you can read the unedited Q&A

Why is diversity is not just the “right thing to do," but also the right thing to do for business?

There is Too much cynicism exists around diversity. Much of this stems from a stereotyping of diversity as a way to be PC or politically correct. The reality is that diversity involves making sure that your business reflects the markets you live in. It is about maintaining your employee base as diverse as your labor market and your customer base. It can also change the way your business thinks. Having a diverse team means you can gain access to the broader set of skills and experiences.

Finally, with by the year 2020, 50% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials. This next generation has grown up in a diverse world and will expect it at work. At some point all businesses need new blood and making your environment appealing is important if you want to compete for the top talent.

Why is it essential for a company to have a diverse workforce in order to truly understand its market?

If all your customers come from a 1-mile radius of your business, then you might be able to argue that you shouldn’t have to argue for Diversity. Chances are that in this case you know all your customers by name. Even when you know them by name you know also know their likes and dislikes. You try and cater to those difference with products and offers you know will attract them.

Most businesses don’t have their customers in a 1-mile radius and are likely not to directly know their customers their customers directly. In this case, how do you know what products to build, what features they should have or how to make them attractive to your market. One of the best ways is to ensure the team making these decisions reflect the market you are trying to serve.

Of course you can guess or spend money on market research. While you might be lucky, a broader more diverse workforce will help you make decisions that are more sensitive to cultural wants and needs of your broader marketplace.

What are the best ways for a company to improve diversity? Does this change with the company's size?

A company’s approach to diversity will depend on its size. A company with thousands or even tens of thousands of employees can more easily establish targets for diversity hiring based on race, ethnicity, ability and age. These targets can be tracked and managed by the Human Resources department and reported out at team and departmental levels. If you work in an environment like this, it is important to be supportive of the company’s diversity practices and procedures. There is little benefit to be gained from resisting or fighting these policies.

Ensuring diversity in smaller teams within a large company can be difficult. In such cases, it is important not to force or mandate diversity. Diversity is even more difficult for a small business that does limited hiring. Even so, these companies should do their best to make sure that their employee demographics reflect the customer base.

One of the best ways to improve diversity is through recruitment. Small changes when targeting job advertising and where the company gleans applications, such as job fairs and universities, can improve diversity by providing a more diverse pool of potential hires. If you only go to one place to get new recruits, even if that is an Ivy League school, you are only ever going to hire one type of person. Even considering carefully who should conduct interviews for specific positions can help to increase diversity.

How can diversity naturally improve your business?

When you have a diverse workforce it changes the way people in the company think and work. In a diverse workplace, you are more likely to be around different types of people who can introduce new approaches at work. Different people from different cultures and backgrounds bring different and often fresh perspectives to problem solving, design, and product development.

Some people are more analytical while others are more creative. People from different religious, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds possess different perspectives on the world and specific issues. Bring all of those different types of people together and you are likely to see more creativity, new and better ideas and more innovation.

What are your thoughts on affirmative action and quotas?

Hopefully we can accept that diversity is not about political correctness. It is also less about quotas or affirmative action, although some government laws and regulations do come into play. True diversity is more than just common decency to those around you, although that is an important part of it.

In a large company with 1,000 executives, it is much easier to open up opportunities to specific groups to enhance diversity. If half of those executives are not women, it is important to consider why that is and to take steps to address it.

In some countries or communities, government or legal issues require you to think through your diversity policies. In most cases, governments do not force quotas on your business. Instead, you will likely have to prove your diversity if you are to win government business. Both local and federal authorities want assurance that your company has a diverse racial and ethnic population plus a significant percentage of women in senior positions. Your support and enablement of disabled people in the workforce may be reviewed. Failure to manage to these criteria may limit or exclude you from certain business opportunities.

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