Cultural Diversity Is Good for Business – Continuing the Conversation

by Dr. Denise O'Neil Green | February 26, 2013 10:00 AM

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to read a Huffington Post article entitled Cultural Diversity Is Good for Business by Tim Hockey, President and CEO, TD Canadian Trust.  I definitely agree with his general premise and the 5 key points that he made about how to achieve diversity within an organization: 1) Be authentic, 2) Get your house in order, 3) Invest in the community, 4) Recruit for your market, and 5) Be strategic.  He also highlighted why diversity is more than simply a buzz word but is a real world phenomenon that businesses should embrace while improving the bottom line. Overall, Mr. Hockey made the quintessential business case for diversity, but more importantly, he outlined steps regarding how to do it successfully.

Cultural Diversity Is Good for Business | Continuing the Conversation
Artist: Vivian Zapata, 2005. Commissioned by the Ford Foundation project Documenting the Differences Diversity Makes through the Center for Democracy for a Multiracial Democracy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Building upon those 5 points, I have 4 additional steps to add, albeit they may have more of an application to the postsecondary environment, nonetheless the concepts still apply:

  1. Foster a diverse senior leadership team. Diversity starts at the top.  Research shows that equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) must start at the top among the executive team, boards, and senior leadership.  Senior leadership is expected to support and model diversity in ways that conveys authenticity and the true message of inclusion.  Recent reports have indicated that few women and visible minorities serve on boards; surely there are women and visible minorities who have the credentials to serve on boards and be a contributing member of the executive team.
  2. Use diversity as a means to an end.  Although cultural diversity, equity and inclusion are worthwhile aims of a business, university, or government entity, they are not the end of the story.  These are organizing principles and phenomena that can be used to transform an organization.  We often speak of infusing diversity or making long-lasting change, but what does that really mean?  To me it means utilizing equity, diversity and inclusion as guiding principles to direct policies, practices, programs, and procedures (the 4Ps).  It is a very intentional exercise that all members of the organization adopt such that the outcome is more than diversity, but is an equitable, diverse and inclusive organization at all levels.
  3. Routinely collect data to ascertain progress.  If equity, diversity, and inclusion are priorities within an organization, data is needed to determine a baseline and set reasonable goals.  This goes well beyond marketing data. Demographic data, along with climate data, is essential to ascertain if particular identity groups face systemic barriers and challenges, or are they moving up the ranks.  The best data is comprehensive, including both statistics and focus groups/interviews, which provide a more complete picture.  While at times the findings may be difficult to swallow, knowing where you stand enables the organization to set a course towards fostering an inclusive culture.  There is a saying, “what gets measured gets done”.  But are we making diversity a priority to measure, report, and improve upon?
  4. Tap the benefits of diversity. Simply having a diverse workforce, diverse student body, diverse customer base, and diverse leadership pool, does not spontaneously materialize or bring forth its benefits.  With both Canada and the United States becoming more diverse, we have not had much practice living in this relatively new reality.  Education is the key to taping those benefits and becoming more a culturally competent society and citizenry.  

Increase your level of awareness, increase your knowledge of other cultures, and develop your skills in communicating across cultures.  These are the three core components of Cultural Competence.

Several years ago I met Darrell Wing Sue, world renowned psychologist and a pioneer in Cultural Competence and author of “Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice.” What I learned from him was that transformation by way of diversity has many levels, including personal, organizational, and societal.  Though we may have a tendency to stop at the personal level; remember our organizations, businesses, and educational institutions, need the transforming power of diversity; thereby, fostering a more equitable and inclusive society.

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