September 21, 2015
A diverse workforce has measurable advantages. Diversity adds dimension to the creativity pool, which can lead to more refined business systems and practices and can yield increased productivity. Additionally, a diverse staff can connect with a wider range of audiences, clients and customers because the team is likely to have a richer cultural understanding that may include language skills. The pursuit of a diverse workforce is no token gesture, nor is it simply an attempt to fill a quota.
Pursuing diversity means widening the scope of inclusion because when people get pushed aside, the workforce doesn’t get the benefit of their talents. Cultivating diversity is not just humane, it also makes good business sense. At a recent celebration of emerging entrepreneurs, President Barack Obama said: “[W]e’ve seen again and again that companies with diverse leadership often outperform those that don’t. . . That’s the market that is out there — not just here in the United States, but globally. So that lack of participation from everybody isn’t good for business.”
Currently, the American labor force is made up of 64% non-Hispanic whites, 16% Hispanics, 12% African-Americans, 5% Asians and 3% of workers who don’t identify a race. American demographics are rapidly changing. White Baby Boomers are retiring in droves and scores of young immigrants are joining the workforce; by 2050, census data projects that the U.S. will have no ethnic or racial majority.
The melting pot comparison that has so often characterized the U.S. is becoming truly relevant. So diversity work that happens now is necessary preparation for America’s future. American business magnate Warren Buffett notes, “The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be.”
Senior vice president of people operations for Google Laszlo Bock has been up front about Google’s challenges in achieving a diverse workforce as well as the company’s ambitious plan to build diversity at Google.
The company’s approach includes extending technical education programs locally to engage a wide range of high school students, targeting recruitment efforts to include universities with diverse populations and providing bias training to teach employees to recognize and challenge biases they may harbor. Google has been remarkably straightforward about its need to grow in this area, and Bock has been a leader in talking openly about a topic that is of paramount importance but can be difficult to address.
Differences are good. Aiming to secure a wide variety of skills and talents is important when amassing a team. Ethnicity, race and gender represent one set of differences, but there are also a wide plurality of characteristics including an individual’s natural abilities, talents, interests, strengths and challenges. This represent another level of diversity.
Bock describes how his team searches for diverse personality traits in their hiring process: “We actually look for people who are different, because diversity gives us great ideas.” Again, there is value to having an array of talents and perspectives. Each team needs a big picture thinker, a person who relishes logistics, a conversation starter who keep the team engaged in their meetings, a notetaker, a clock watcher, etc. It takes a team to think in all the various ways that a given project requires.
A team is best prepared to execute a task when it has a variety of tools. Each employee’s mode of analysis, calculation, communication etc. comprises that tool kit. As the professionals responsible for outfitting that unit for success, it is imperative to know, first, what the team is missing and what it needs. Secondly, it’s key to understand how to tease that out in an interview, especially those soft skills that probably won’t be obvious on a resume.
Perhaps in the next 35 years the term “diversity” will become obsolete as the American population changes. Until then, mindfully creating diverse and inclusive professional cultures is a winning formula. It fosters a climate of civility and it taps into the full range of talent in the workforce.