Vail Centre column: Diversity is important to a company’s culture
Promoting cultural diversity in the workplace is more than the title of a feel-good workshop your human resources department sponsors once a year. Because businesses inevitably compete in the global arena, it’s essential to have diverse perspectives in your company culture. Diversity can help to create a climate of respect and prevent your company from making mistakes, and it can also lead to growth and higher earnings by fostering innovation, flexibility and creativity.
Culture of Respect
• Diversity fosters a culture of respect — When a company’s culture is monolithic, it’s easier to hunker down in the bubble and think your views are universal. In an environment like this, the few people who do have different social, economic or cultural viewpoints will likely be dismissed, even when they present valid insight regarding the consumer.
Kieran Synder shares a startling statistic in an article for Fortune about why women leave the tech industry. Twenty-seven percent of the 716 women surveyed cited discomfort with the monolithic company culture as their reason. One woman said she felt “pretty sure” she was the only black person her colleagues had ever spoken with. These women didn’t think they were being overtly discriminated against; they simply felt they didn’t fit into an otherwise homogenous work environment.
Having a diverse workforce serves to protect your company from such a toxic work environment by fostering compassion and consideration of different points of view and preventing individuals from being singled out and marginalized. This, in turn, can lead to greater workplace productivity, higher retention rates and stronger morale.
• Diversity encourages innovation — Ask most European academics why they want to study in the United States. They will likely tell you that it’s because American universities aren’t burdened by centuries of a homogenous culture that values hierarchy and tradition and stifles research projects that challenge the established order. The diversity of U.S. universities, which attract the best researchers from around the world, creates an environment that fosters innovation and creativity.
Studies of successful businesses confirm what academics already know: Innovation is good for a company’s productivity and, ultimately, its profit margins. McKinsey & Co. reported on a study of 180 companies in nations around the world and found that companies with top-team diversity perform 14 percent better than the least diverse companies.
• A lack of diversity may signal other fundamental problems — One reason companies fail to diversify may be that they believe hiring people who look and act like them is the same as hiring people who share core values. Diversity may feel like a core value, but it isn’t. Core values, such as integrity and efficiency, are shared by all cultures and genders; in order to have the same values, people do not need to come from the same cultural background.
A strong company hires individuals who share its values but come from different walks of life. It can be difficult to get colleagues, even in a diverse workforce, to move outside their own cultural perspectives and limited worldviews. In this sense, diversity is an ongoing challenge that requires constant work, modeling and management.
Nevertheless, embracing diversity as a cultural movement is the best way to build a business that has the flexibility, creativity and insight to prosper in the 21st century. As Steven Covey put it, “Strength lies in differences, not similarities.”
Ross Iverson is the CEO of the Vail Centre and can be reached at email@example.com. The Vail Centre’s mission is to elevate careers, organizations and communities through education. Learn more at http://www.vail centre.org.
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