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Diversity as Strategic Advantage

by Hal Levenson on Dec 04, 2013 7:36:07 AM

You have heard it said for most of your life that great minds think alike. For decades, this has been a presumption in business hiring. Some firms, like IBM, learned the hard way about a decade ago that diversity can be a strategic advantage in the 21st century marketplace. Today, the question is, “Are you using diversity as a Strategic Advantage?”

Despite corporate endorsement of diversity in departments, teams, and workgroups, many companies still have not dealt with managers who insist upon selecting people who think like them. Numerous studies conducted in the past few decades have demonstrated (again and again) that diversity makes workgroups, teams, departments and companies more innovative, creative and productive.

What do we mean by “diversity”? In this context, diversity refers to bringing together people with different backgrounds, education, points of view, beliefs, values and ways of thinking and doing. The kind of diversity that leads to innovation and strategic advantage is more than racial or ethnic inclusiveness. It includes

  • Talent
  • Skills
  • Personality
  • Experience
  • Generation
  • Knowledge
  • Expertise
  • Age

This kind of broadly defined diversity can be used as a strategic advantage in your company to ignite innovation and creativity, to analyze problems differently and produce better products and/or services, and to build a better and stronger company.

How does diversity become a strategic advantage? Diversity becomes a strategic advantage in a firm when it is intentionally cultivated and nourished, and when it is made or allowed to become a vital factor in decision-making, design, product development, and other aspects of the business.

  1. Corporate leadership must build and win buy-in for a corporate culture of diversity. This culture must support diversity at every level and in every aspect of the work of everyone in the firm – it will be pervasive and compelling.
  2. The desire for diversity must be informed by the culture of the firm, but it must also be embraced by human resources staff and purposely pursued in hiring decisions. People hired into the firm must also embrace the culture of diversity, as well as bringing to the firm a unique and needed skill set, personality, age group or knowledge set.
  3. Leadership at every level within the organization must reach beyond numbers and quotas both to bring together diverse individuals and points of view, but also to create the climate in which every person is comfortable sharing opinions, ideas and thoughts freely, whether their ideas do or do not agree with leaders, managers, or the prevailing opinions.

Diversity is powerful as a strategic advantage precisely because it opens discussions to dissenting opinions and because it challenges and re-examines long-held practices, beliefs and attitudes. Given mere lip service, diversity brings nothing new to the table. When truly embraced and encouraged, diversity can become the strategic advantage that moves your firm to a new level.

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