Why diversity—why now?

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By Reggie Butler, Monica Oldham, and John Verderese

In the midst of the current recession, many businesses are focusing on what they see as the basics, and diversity simply is not on—or is falling off—their radar screens. But the reality is that diversity and inclusion matter more than ever to future success. Companies are discovering that to best position themselves for the next business cycle, they need to harness the collective power of their people across the broadest spectrum.

Right now, we’re struggling through a severe economic crisis that has toppled prominent financial institutions, caused extreme volatility on Wall Street, and driven scores of companies into bankruptcy. In times like these, when organizations are looking for ways to maximize efficiencies by doing more with less, the tendency is to place diversity-related spending on the back burner.

Forward-thinking leaders, however, recognize the need to invest in diversity and inclusion as part of their overall talent management practices and to continually challenge their organizations to make the connection between those principles and their corporate performance. The payoffs for such investment are real, and they touch every area of the business by potentially resulting in greater agility, better market insight, stronger customer and community loyalty, innovation, and improved employee recruitment and retention. In today’s economic environment, what company can afford to ignore such competitive advantages?

The year by which minorities, now roughly one-third of the US population, are expected to become the majority.

While real, the business benefits of diversity and inclusion won’t come easily or automatically. Companies must begin the hard work of changing how their organizations think about diversity and inclusion. successful leaders neither question nor apologize for pushing forward key business initiatives that drive the growth, development, and competitive advantage for future sustainability. the corporate dialogue on diversity and inclusion should be no different. When diversity and inclusion are viewed as a priority business strategy, the questions of why diversity—why now? Can be answered clearly, with well articulated confidence and authenticity.

Diversity efforts must entail more than just initiatives or stand-alone programs that can be toppled by budget cuts or become victims of lethargy. Success will depend on how the desired mind-set and behaviors cascade down from the c-suite to permeate the entire organization—business unit managers, teams, and individuals alike—until that way of thinking and those behaviors become embedded within every part of the company. That same leadership imperative holds true for any type of organization; public-sector and nonprofit entities also cannot afford to ignore the transformational power of diversity.

And those organizations that dismiss diversity? Five to 10 years down the road, they may find themselves unable to attract and retain the kinds of customers, employees, and business partners that constitute our changing world.

Defining the goal
Why diversity is not enough

Diversity. inclusion. what’s the difference? And does it really matter? You bet. Far from a semantics debate, how you think about your diverse workforce makes a big difference.

When we consider diversity, we look at the full range of human and organizational differences and similarities. Many organizations think of diversity in terms of attributes like generation, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation; however, there are more than 20 dimensions at play. Acknowledging and even celebrating an organization’s diversity are only starting points.

The real payoff comes through creating an environment of inclusion, the process of leveraging each unique individual to strive toward a common goal and objective. When individuals believe they’re in an environment that is supportive and collaborative—and that their voices are being heard—increased productivity and a greater sense of loyalty result. This is where transformation takes place, where the impact on your business and the necessary competitive advantage are realized..