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Perspectives

From Feel-Good to Profits: How to Build and Leverage Workforce Diversity

2015-04-28


Diversity is more than just the right thing to do. It's how companies can gain greater perspective, more innovation and ultimately better balance sheets. Here are six tips to help you get there.

Great ideas rarely come from a single individual. They certainly don’t stem from like-mindedness. In fact, 85% of executives believe diverse workforces are a necessary driver of innovation, according to a recent Forbes Insights survey. Not only that, but gender diversity alone is capable of doubling operating performance and increasing stock price by as much as 17%, according to a recent McKinsey & Co. report

In other words, not only are inclusive workforces the right thing to do, they’re one of the most reliable ways to deliver sustained profits. However diverse your workforce is or isn’t, here’s how to encourage and attract the much-needed diversity and open-mindedness to thrive in a global mobile economy. 

Making Diversity Accessible by Boosting Open-Mindedness

Based on recent corporate research, here are three specific ways to broaden employee contributions, regardless of a company’s current diversity level:

Understand and Eliminate Organizational Biases

Recognizing the existence of corporate biases is the first step in eliminating them. And getting rid of biases is the first step in building stronger and more mature leadership that values each and every contributing member of the organization. To do this, you must educate senior leadership first on the benefits of and methods to achieve mindful diversity. From a practical standpoint, accepting others’ views is as simple as “counting to 10”—having the presence of mind to withhold snap judgments and initiate a conversation about why someone holds a specific opinion or has come to a particular conclusion rather than dismiss it. 

Facilitate Opportunities to Connect and Collaborate

Simply having a diverse workforce isn’t enough. Leaders must also ensure that diverse individuals integrate and interact with one another, across time and geography. This can be done in the following ways: 1) Host events and regular one-on-ones with leaders to encourage employee introductions, cross-departmental interactions and build trust; 2) Use SMAC Stack tools (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) to amplify remote workflow communication; 3) Educate your team to resolve conflicts through meaningful conversations (i.e., listen, acknowledge complaints, take corrective action, explain why the problem occurred and thank them); 4) Shun private workspaces in favor of open architecture and common areas to promote elbow rubbing and informal congregation (a la Apple’s forthcoming “spaceship” headquarters); and 5) Consider artificially limiting office sizes to create more intimate work environments a la W. L. Gore & Associates. 

Clarify the Rules of Engagement

In a workplace that is rich with diverse individuals, particularly when mixing older and younger generations, you must establish ground rules to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings arising from behavioral and perception differences. Areas for discussion likely include the place and time of work (i.e., does it matter that everybody works the same hours in the same office?), what method of communication and response times will your group use and what requires advanced planning vs. what can be coordinated in real time. Where possible, make these and other ground rules situation-specific and rather than pronouncing one view as right or wrong, designate your answers to each of the above for the group to follow. In short, simply knowing the rules is half the battle of effective communication. 

Interactive

Figure 1

Making Diversity Actionable: Three Concrete Stages

When empowered with a greater level of open-mindedness, companies can identify with and act upon three concrete stages of workforce diversity.

Stage One: Intent

You must want to attract and retain a more diverse population. In this stage, companies move from a homogeneous group of employees, typically defined in terms of race and gender, to a more heterogeneous talent pool. If you are in this stage, two initiatives take priority. The first is recruiting. Companies must look for new channels of talent—new universities, perhaps, in new locations or talent they have not previously recognized, such as an under-represented communities of engineers. The second initiative is build awareness. This is an educational activity; companies may recruit diverse workers but fall into the trap of assuming that individuals from different backgrounds have the same preferences and expectations as the majority.

Stage Two: Engagement and Retention

Individuals from diverse backgrounds are likely to have a wide variety of preferences and expectations for work and will require additional support to develop productive careers. In this stage, customization-based programs take priority. For instance, many companies assign mentors or special counselors to help with integration and career development. Some create specialized career tracks, perhaps to supplement specific skills or provide exposure to key parts of the organization. Employee business resource groups (EBRGs) are one way that many corporations engage diverse employee populations. BNY Mellon’s IMPACT group,for example, is designed to develop every aspect of a multicultural employees’ growth, from recruitment and retention, to professional development and advancement.

Stage Three: Legitimizing Differences

At this stage, companies appreciate the “rightness” of multiple positions and acknowledge the legitimacy and benefit of differing values, views and behaviors. This requires moving far past political correctness—beyond the goals of simply not offending or harassing those with diverse perspectives—to acknowledging that the existence of differences is vital to arriving at a full appreciation of an issue and its possible outcomes. And that only becomes possible through thoughtful education that emphasizes the underlying logic and value of individual views. In other words, this is where the real innovation takes place; where the global perspective is fully considered to arrive at a universal understanding that connects people and propels great ideas.

Looking Forward

The starting point for greater capitalization on diversity is different for every organization. As you plot your organization’s journey, consider your current maturity: Do you need to add people with new perspectives to the mix or are you at a point where your greatest opportunity lies in leveraging existing diversity? Wherever you find yourself, the practical tips above form an actionable menu from which to order a next level of diversity benefits. The key is moving beyond just having diversity, to using it for innovative success.

Ultimately, winning companies that embrace diversity and inclusion avail themselves to a rich tapestry of employee, customer and partner insights, regardless of creed, color, gender, socio-economic status or sexual preference. Such openness is critical in taking diversity from buzzword status to greater perspective and business performance. In our view, companies that get this right are the ones that will dominate the future of work.

For more information, read the full white paper, Building and Benefiting from a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce, read our official stance on workforce diversity or visit our business process practice.

About the Authors

Tamara J. Erickson is a McKinsey Award-winning author and widely respected expert on collaboration and innovation, the changing workforce and the nature of work in the intelligent economy. She has been named three times as one of the 50 most influential living management thinkers in the world by Thinkers 50, a premier biennial ranking of global business thinkers. Among her many publications, she has written a trilogy of books on how individuals in specific generations can excel in today's workplace: Retire Retirement: Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation; What's Next, Gen X?: Keeping Up, Moving Ahead and Getting the Career You Want; and Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work. She can be reached at tammy@tammyerickson.com | LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/tamara-j-tammy-erickson/0/662/16b.

Gajen Kandiah is the Executive Vice President and Global Managing Director, Business Process Services, at Cognizant. As the Global Head of Markets, he is responsible for accelerating the growth of the BPS business, developing services and solutions leveraging the synergies between ITO and BPO and extending Cognizant's capability to become a leading provider of business services automation and management solutions. These solutions include business process as a service (BPaaS) and combine new business, delivery and commercial models to help customers embrace the future of work. Gajen is a proven entrepreneur and business leader who has demonstrated his ability to build winning businesses within multinational corporations and startups for over two decades. He can be reached at Gajen@cognizant.com | LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/gajen-kandiah/1/105/67.

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From Feel-Good to Profits: How to Build and Leverage Workforce Diversity