Corporate Diversity: Moving Beyond the Numbers to Harness the Core Strengths of Diversity
Too often, companies have a narrow view of corporate diversity that falls short of harnessing the full capabilities and benefits associated with diversity management. A comprehensive diversity strategy can enable companies to capture new value through boosting employee loyalty and fostering new forms of innovation.
Background on Corporate Diversity Trends
For the past two to three decades, the accelerating pace of globalization and immigration throughout North America and Western Europe has led multinational companies to strengthen their diversity strategies to ensure that their businesses are well positioned to compete in the changing economic landscape.
For some companies, this has entailed the development of new products and marketing strategies that are closely aligned to the requirements and preferences of emerging markets. In other instances, companies have intentionally increased the hiring of a diverse workforce that can more aptly connect with their broad customer base as well as design and deliver suitable new products and services according to a wide range of needs.
Additionally, companies have sought to demonstrate the strengths of their corporate responsibility practices by leveraging diversity as a cornerstone of their strategy to demonstrate fairness and equity in the workplace.
Understanding Corporate Diversity
The concept of diversity, as understood and applied in this sense, entails differences with respect to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith and age. The implementation of the above strategies has resulted in a more diverse workforce than ever before. This is apparent not only through products, services, and marketing campaigns produced by companies, but also through their regulatory filings such as annual and corporate responsibility reports that feature a range of workforce diversity across all facets of the organization with a particular emphasis on upper management and board members.
The performance and impact of companies’ diversity strategies are often evaluated periodically through employee feedback surveys and key performance indicators (KPIs) that assess diversity hiring targets and proportional representation across different departments and levels in the organization.
A key challenge emerging from the deployment of these diversity strategies and their corresponding KPIs is that a narrow understanding of diversity is perpetuated along with a limited demonstration of its core strengths. Diversity management not only has the potential to capitalize on emerging opportunities stemming from globalization and immigration, but also can help companies strengthen employee morale and loyalty, and foster higher levels of innovation.
Expanding Our Definition of Corporate Diversity
Looking beyond the social elements of diversity outlined above (i.e., gender, ethnicity, etc.), companies should seek to understand and harness the diversity of ideas, thoughts and approaches prevalent amongst it broad employee base. It is this form of diversity that holds the greatest potential in tackling some of the most complex corporate challenges and inspires new forms of creativity and innovation to deliver solutions, products, and services that create new value for the organization.
One example that harnesses this form of diversity involves the design of Apple’s products. It is the collaboration of diverse professions and the integration of different bodies of knowledge that result in the formulation and creation of these revolutionized new technologies. The interaction between the design experts and engineers (not to mention many other disciplines) cultivate a new form of understanding and appreciation of the “other’s’” perspective resulting in the creation of new ideas and more enriched products for Apple (Source: An HR Lesson from Steve Jobs).
In another instance, I had the opportunity to examine diversity strategies in the hospitality sector with a focus on fostering cross-cultural collaboration. One recommendation had entailed developing opportunities and spaces for lead chefs of different backgrounds and culinary specialities to interact in an informal setting that would facilitate the fostering of stronger bonds within and outside of the workplace.
This recommendation not only sought to enhance employee satisfaction and loyalty in an industry experiencing one of the highest levels of employee attrition, but also to serve as a platform for cultivating creativity and culinary innovation.
How can your organization move beyond a corporate diversity strategy that focuses on numbers and harness its real strengths?