FountainBlue’s November 8 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was the topic of The Business Case for Diversity. Below are notes from the conversation.
We were fortunate to have a wide range of experienced and passionate panelists who provided insights, suggestions and advice for creating a business case for diversity. Although our panelists represented a wide range of perspectives from HR to strategy, from legal to program management, they spoke passionately about the need for embracing diversity, and the business implications of doing so effectively.
Our panelists had a wide range of upbringings which helped them appreciate and embrace diverse perspectives from an early age. Whether they stood out physically as an immigrant or whether they had the same superficial similarities as those around them, from an early age, they have each appreciated how different they are from others, and how every has unique perspectives to be considered.
Throughout their career, our panelists have traveled across cultures and continents, representing a range of perspectives and viewpoints and business units, always advocating for clients and staff, ever translating the communication of those swimming-against-the-mainstream viewpoints, ever looking for the business advantages for doing so. They consistently spoke not just about the importance of strategically embracing diversity, but also about how to do so tangibly and measurable so that it continually engages the needs of the customer, and serves the people, operations and processes of the company.
Our panelists today believe that strategically embracing a diverse range of perspectives will help create more robust solutions, and done well, facilitate healthy debate and engagement, as well as an environment in which those viewpoints are invited and welcomed. This type of corporate culture builds loyalty and welcome innovative, out-of-the-box thinking as well – both undebatable contributors to the bottom line.
Diversity in the workplace has become so much more important over the past two decades as technology, business, and customer needs are evolving much more rapidly than ever before and the focus is prominently on creating value for the evolving and growing niche customers globally. There were many specific examples about needing a team who can speak the language and understand the culture of global customer bases in order to understand customer needs, negotiate deals, and otherwise engage with critical partners from around the globe.
One of our panelists mentioned the different layers of diversity: the primary layer, things that we can’t (easily) change such as age, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, the secondary layer, related to geographic, income, work style, communication style, and the tertiary layer such as organization, position, union, management, and status. Incorporating a range of stakeholders with primary differences and engaging a range of stakeholders from different secondary levels (geography, role, styles) and then focusing on shifting the organization and the culture to embrace diversity at all levels is a worthwhile challenge for companies focused creating an ongoing business case for diversity.
Below is some specific advice from our panelists about creating a business case for diversity:
- Identify your niche audience and understand how to create value for them.
- Recruit people from your team who would understand the thinking and needs of that niche audience.
- Be open to those who don’t think like you, and encourage and reward others in your team and network to do the same.
- Create tangible results that measure success, which might include numbers around retention, sales, community and partner engagement, or other factors.
- See beyond the stereotypes and respond to the way people think, speak and act. Always question your own assumptions about stereotypes and embrace those situations which break your view of what’s expected.
- Change is difficult for some people and for some organizations. Making the business case for change will assist in transitions to new strategies and practices.
- Think act and speak your mind, and show how your thinking differently is good for yourself, your team and your company. Step into what is scary, and be confident that your thinking differently will make a difference.
- When someone makes assumptions based on your gender or looks, take the high road and prove your value.
- Mentors, supporters and networks facilitate the success of people who think differently. Recognize, respect and honor who has done this for you, and choose to do something every day to support others.
- The more diversity is successfully embraced in your organization, the more effective the business case for diversity as success begets success.
The bottom line is that diversity in the business perspective is not so much about moral and social justice, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. It’s about being profitable and competitive *and* doing the right thing – morally and fiscally – for all stakeholders, from staff to customers to management, need to feel included, and valued and respected, and supported for our differences. The more our actions, words and thoughts reflect this objective, the more engaged and successful our stakeholders will feel, and the better the results we deliver.