I’m not being cynical when I say that it’s far more likely business leaders will enact positive social change when they’re aware of its benefit to the bottom line.
While the flaws of workplace culture have been underscored recently by headlines and marches and movements, what ails the modern office environment isn’t new and, sadly, hasn’t changed as much as most of us would like to see. While belonging to the same human species should be enough incentive for us to pledge to improve things, we’d be kidding ourselves to ignore that most corporate change happens when production and profit are disrupted – for the better or for the worse.
I believe if more companies truly viewed diversity and inclusion as profit-positive constructs instead of bottom line-neutral obligations, business would be far better off.
While most have some understanding of workplace diversity’s cultural and societal impact, do we really grasp how a diverse staff improves business practices? At idfive, more than half of our staff is comprised of under-represented professionals — women, seniors, people of color, LGBTQ, and immigrants. I believe we’re dramatically more successful because of it. Here’s why.
Different cultures and backgrounds are exposed to different experiences, different perspectives, different ways of doing things. Having access to that diversity of perspective (and of “doing”) can reduce the time it takes to invent and try new processes. Homogenous thinking leads to complacency — “that’s the way we’ve always done it” becomes a default. Diversity can provide new angles to approach familiar challenges. It can spark new questions that lead to new answers. And it can shake us out of the warm, comfortable confines of the status quo.
Diversity begets diversity. Celebrating a diverse workplace helps to create a place of psychological safety – a prerequisite of real innovation. A positive culture delivers higher retention rates, reducing recruitment and training costs while preserving institutional knowledge. With greater retention, your company is able to capitalize on the investment you’ve made in training a workforce that sticks together, developing greater efficiency, easier communication, and more accountability.
Not every company is for everyone. While a company that’s committed to diversity is going to attract a workforce with many differences, you’ll find the staff rallies around similar values. You’ll connect with one-another in many different and more profound ways than just about the work that you do together. Because of these deeper connections forged in the diverse workplace, you can expect a more respectful, collaborative and efficient environment. Respect, collaboration, and efficiency are attributes that almost always translate to better business.
Some things to keep in mind…
You will lose and you will win.
You will lose some people along the way when you make the commitment and transition to a more divers workforce. Be OK with this because the shift will also attract the talent that aligns with your company’s greater values.
Don’t push diversity for the sake of diversity.
You still need to deliver on the product and value your customers have come to expect from you. Don’t just hire a diverse workforce so you can say you are diverse. There are plenty of qualified and talented people that can meet both diversity and experience criteria. Instead, strive to look for staff in places that you traditionally haven’t. Consider job fairs at schools you may have overlooked. Consider people with experience and backgrounds that may not be an exact fit, but whose personalities and values align with yours. And — above all — keep an open mind.
Celebrate, encourage, facilitate.
Invest in your team’s diversity and their interests. If there is a movie they want to watch, a concert they want to attend, a march they want to go to, a cause they want to volunteer for… allow the company to be a platform for them to promote and mobilize. Pay for the bus, or drinks, or lunch to show support. Leadership can also show support by personally participating in these activities.
A final thought…
As an immigrant and a person of color who owns a business, I’ve had the opportunity to see the challenges that face both companies and under-represented employees. Committing to diversity isn’t easy. It may create conflict initially. It may come with growing pains. But from the perspective of our bottom line — and from the bottom of my heart — I can promise you it’s truly worth it.
Andrés isn’t like most founders. He’s responsible for the operations and direction of idfive, but he’s also the door-always-open, huevos-rancheros-making leader who’ll help you when the wifi isn’t working. A lifetime learner and multifaceted professional, Andrés has nearly 30 years of experience leading projects for clients in various industries. He believes in the power of research and data to create something beautiful that can do something good.