What do business leaders need to understand about diversity?

If our collective desire is to make the greater Knoxville area a destination of choice for investment, for talented individuals and their families, and for the leading businesses of tomorrow, then diversity and inclusion must have intentional focus.

Business leaders send a powerful message when they demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion that goes beyond mere talk. Companies and leaders  who are most effective, have integrated diversity into all of the processes of their organization. Diversity becomes a lens for looking at, identifying, developing, and advancing talent. So when they think about recruitment, they don’t just have a minority recruiter. All recruiters are educated about how to relate to the diversity of the population that they recruit from.

Leaders build accountability into their systems with regard to their managers taking responsibility for creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. Too often the people at the very top say all the right things relative to diversity, but their middle management, who create the experience for people who work there, don’t understand and don’t feel accountable for diversity and inclusion.

Leaders do not see diversity as a once-and-done initiative, nor do they hand off that responsibility to others.   The Harvard Business Review interviewed 24 CEO’s from around the globe who ran companies that had earned reputations for creating diverse workforces.  When asked why advancing diversity in their organizations was so important to them, the aggregate answer was twofold: They believed it was a business imperative because their companies needed it to stay competitive, and they believed it was a moral imperative because of their personal experiences and values.

We love our comfort zones.  Leaders need to rise above our need to justify or validate ourselves, which is what happens when we seek people who are just like us. Diversity of thought, diversity of perspective, diversity of opinion is really crucial. Leaders need a certain amount of social competency to be able to engage people who have differences of ideas and perspectives. Diversity can and should be a critical component of the innovation that leaders are driving in their organization, and it can and should be a competitive advantage for them.

Demographic trends indicate that women and minorities are the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. workforce.  The United States Office of Employment estimates that by 2018, 41% of the people entering the US workforce will be minorities.  A focus on diversity and building an organization that’s culturally inclusive is going to allow you to attract and retain that top talent.

Among the advantages of diversity in the workplace are:  increased creativity, increased production, new attitudes, new language skills, global understanding, new processes, and new solutions to difficult problems.

Commitment to diversity must be incorporated as an integral part of corporate success.   Continued growth toward a more inclusive corporate culture is necessary for business success.   Customers, business partners and employees should see themselves represented in your boardroom, in your workforce, in your marketing campaigns, in the community, and the organizations you support.

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”  – Maya Angelou