A diverse body of talent with fresh ideas and perspectives is one of the essential ingredients to a company’s long-term success. As you look around your office, is everyone just like you? Probably not. The demographics of the workforce have changed dramatically over the last 50 years which is a better reflection of the population with a significant mix of genders, race, religion, age and other background factors. The long-term success of any business calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring fresh ideas, perspectives and views to their work. The challenge that diversity
poses, therefore, is enabling your managers to capitalize on the mixture of genders, cultural backgrounds, ages and lifestyles in order to respond to business opportunities more rapidly and creatively.
A diverse workforce
Diversity is no longer just a black/white, male/female, old/young issue. It is much more complicated and interesting than that. Diversity is about our relationships, connection and interactions where the lines cross. Diversity is many things – a bridge between organizational life and the reality of people’s lives, building corporate capability, the framework for interrelationships between people, a learning exchange and a strategic lens
on the world. A major benefit of a diverse workforce is the ability to tap into the many talents which employees from different backgrounds, perspectives, abilities and disabilities bring to the workplace. Many organizations however, still face challenges around building a diverse environment. Part of the reason is the tendency to pigeonhole employees, placing them in a different silo based on their diversity profile. In the real world, diversity cannot be easily categorized and those organizations that respond to human complexity by leveraging the talents of a broad workforce will be the most effective in growing their businesses and their customer base. So, how do you develop a diversity strategy that gets results? The companies with the most effective diversity programmes take a holistic approach to diversity by following these guidelines:
- Link diversity to the bottom line.
When exploring ways to increase corporate profits, look to new markets or to partnering with your clients more strategically. Consider how a diverse workforce will enable your company to meet those goals.
Think outside the box.
- Walk the talk.
If senior management advocates a diverse workforce, make diversity evident at all organizational levels. If you don’t, some employees will quickly conclude that there is no future for them in your company. Show
respect for diversity issues and promote clear and positive responses to them.
- Broaden your efforts.
Does diversity at your company refer only to race and gender? If so, expand your definition and your diversity efforts. As baby
boomers age and more minorities enter the workplace, the shift in demographics means that managing a multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce will become a business norm. Also, there is a wealth of specialized equipment available to enable people with disabilities to contribute successfully to their work environments. If your organizational environment does not support diversity broadly, you risk losing talent to your competitors.
- Remove artificial barriers to success.
The style of interview – behavioural or functional- may be a disadvantage to some job candidates. Older employees, for example, are less familiar with behavioural interviews and may not perform as well unless your recruiters directly ask for the kind of experiences they are looking for.
- Retain diversity at all levels.
The definition of diversity goes beyond race and gender to encompass lifestyle issues as well as programmes that address work and family issues.
- Provide practical training.
Using relevant examples to teach small groups of people how to resolve conflicts and value diverse opinions helps companies far more than large, abstract diversity lectures. Training needs to emphasize
the importance of diverse ideas as well. Workers care more about whether or not their boss seems to value their ideas rather than if they are part of a group of all diverse workforce. In addition, train leaders to move beyond their own cultural frame of reference to recognize and take full advantage of the productivity potential inherent in a diverse population.
- Mentor with others at your company
who you do not know well. Involve your managers in a mentoring
programme to coach and provide feedback to employees who are different from them. Some of your most influential mentors can
be people with whom you have little in common. Find someone who doesn’t look just like you. Probably from a different background, race or gender. Find someone who thinks differently with you.
- Measure your results.
Conduct regular organizational assessments on issues like pay, benefits,
work environment, management and promotional opportunities to assess your progress over the long term. Keep doing what is working and avoid what is not. Managing diversity as a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees
Successful strategic diversity programmes also lead to increased profits and low expenses. The long-term success of any business calls for a diverse body of talent that can bring fresh ideas, perspectives and views and a corporate mindset that values those views. It’s also no secret that
lack of diversity can affect your ability to communicate effectively with diverse clients. Link your diversity strategies to specific goals like morale, retention, performance and the bottom line. Build your business with everything you’ve got, with the complex multi-dimensional talents
and personalities of your workforce, and make diversity work for you.
Dr. Kellen Kiambati holds a PhD in business administration with a focus on strategic management from JKUAT and an MBA from KEMU. She is a certified business associate