There is perhaps no greater misunderstood concept in business today than the concept of organizational diversity or having a team that has a range of diverse individuals in its composition.
For some, it is a buzzword, a politically correct term that brings with it quotas, scorecards tracking hiring and promotion trends by gender, and annual reporting.
For others, it is exclusively a “male-female” thing.
These narrow views, and others, miss the point of diversity, and why it is important to any business in today’s global world. Diversity is an inclusive term that means diversity of any sort. It is not purely limited to gender, although indeed this is a crucial factor. It involves diversity of religion, skin color, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. It even means differences in socio-economic background, school, education and field of study. Basically, diversity implies any means of human differentiation. For a business, embracing diversity in your organization gives you a huge competitive edge in the global marketplace. I learned this firsthand nearly 20 years ago when I was running Procter & Gamble’s “Near East” business. This was a business comprised of five markets —Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank/Gaza Strip. We recruited from all markets and put everyone into the same office melting pot, despite sometimes-inherent tensions!
I have told many over the years that this was my most creative and innovative team ever. Yes, there was the tension and discomfort of putting Lebanese and Israeli employees in the same office. But the sparks it created led to an amazing conflagration of ideas and creativity. I never saw anything like it, and this little team of 20 people generated no less than a dozen ideas that spread worldwide and helped P&G businesses around the globe. At the heart of it all was diversity — putting a group of totally different people on the same team, rallying them around the same dream, and letting them push and challenge each other to new levels.
In simple terms, I have personally seen three major wins for a business that embraces diversity:
Creativity and innovation. This is the “Near East” example. True diversity brings lots of unique ideas to the table and challenges conventional thinking. You want the same old ideas? Then the best way to get this is to recruit the same kinds of people, from the same campuses, studying the same subjects! Creativity comes from curiosity and a range of experiences, which diversity fosters. For any business today, innovation is the lifeblood of the future.
Pools of talent. In the global market, it is becoming more and more difficult to find and attract world-class talent. Nobody can afford to exclude any sub-segment of the population. Excluding a group based on a preconceived notion means limiting oneself to a narrower pool of talent to draw from. As people are the cornerstone of success, nothing could be more risky!
Finally, the consumer is boss and the consumer deserves representation! About four years ago I gave a speech to young Muslim students in Mindanao. One student asked me, “What is the key driver for coming and recruiting here?” as they did not see very many recruiting visits by a multinational CEO from Manila. My answer was simple: I run a consumer goods business. The Filipino consumer is my customer, and hence the “boss” of my business. And this means all Filipinos. How can I have a company that truly serves Filipinos if I don’t have Muslim employees who can more deeply understand the needs and concerns of six million Filipino Muslims? To truly serve all Filipinos, an organization must reflect the diverse tapestry of the nation.
Diversity is no longer a “nice to have” but becoming a “need to have” for a winning organization. Go beyond the superficialities. And there is certainly no room for discrimination or petty generalizations. Embrace differences on your team. Mix it up — by gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, schooling, major, social background. And harness the power of diversity for your team.
Your bottom line will thank you for it