Workforce Diversity — A Key to Success in the Global Landscape

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

Think about the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. When a contestant doesn’t know an answer, he or she can use a “lifeline” to poll the audience for guidance. It’s a smart move: Studies have shown that the cumulative audience response was correct 91 percent of the time.

There’s some logic as to why those folks are almost always right. Since the show’s questions hit on any topic imaginable, the success rate can be largely attributed to the diversity of the group — people with different backgrounds, skillsets, and experiences. Together, all that varied knowledge makes the group stronger.

That thinking is also factoring into the way companies are planning their future. Over the past 15 years, workplace diversity has become a major initiative for nearly every major corporation. Companies have found that building teams inclusive of gender, race, and different cultural backgrounds is not only the ethical thing to do — it’s also a great way to grow their business.

“The forward-leaning CEOs who keep strategic diversity in mind are as concerned about diversity’s business value as they are about diversity’s social value,” national diversity expert John Fitzgerald Gates wrote in the Huffington Post. “They structure their organizations around a different set of diversity expectations built on advancing core business concerns.”

“The more diverse the group, the more opportunity you have for creative thinking and different ideas,” adds Damika Arnold, global diversity and inclusion leader at Xerox, “and that is really what you need to drive innovation in today’s changing world.”

A big reason for the shift in thinking is the expanding business landscape. Xerox, for example, was once a U.S.-only company. Today, it does business in more than 180 countries with 140,000 employees worldwide. “Corporations are making diversity and diversity inclusion a top priority because companies are becoming truly global,” says Arnold. “As a result, you have to make sure you understand all the different dynamics that are happening around you — and around the world.”

It’s still a work in progress, though. Research shows that the workforce is more diverse than ever overall, but is still lacking in certain sectors and in upper management. And this spring, Yahoo, Google, and LinkedIn released their diversity stats, and the results were not pretty.

“We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity,” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations. “And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.”

Diversity is now an important part of the conversation, thanks to employee-organized affinity groups, non-profit activism, and visionary executives. As technology continues to change the nature of business — and which people are involved in it — companies will have to continue to find ways to recruit and retain the best talent available.

“More women, minorities, people with different ethnic backgrounds and faiths, disability status, and sexual orientation are entering the workforce,” says Arnold. “Organizations that do not value or effectively manage diversity and inclusion will miss the opportunity to utilize the full potential of their workforce, and will struggle in a complex and very competitive business environment. It all boils down to one global team working together.

“In a time when we are all challenged to do more with less, diversity and inclusion needs to be a priority,” she adds. “Let’s face it, if your customer base is global and diverse and you reflect their perspectives and their knowledge, you’re going to have a better chance for success.”

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