COMMENTARY

Success without diversity is temporary

April 19, 2013 

Presenting obvious characteristics indicating that one is from another culture always brings curiosity from the host community. This is often translated in the many questions the newcomer is asked such as, “What brought you to this community?” For those who never remember, I am often asked, “Where did you say you are from … again?”

For the people who know me well, what I advocate, and what I do as profession, recent questions have turned around the value of diversity. Community and political leaders, educational and business leaders are still asking themselves questions of the type, “We are not diverse in any way and are doing just fine, why should we care about diversity?”

Research on the business case for diversity abounds in all industries and communities indicating the huge benefits of diversity and inclusion. But while most leaders are aware of these studies, many are surprised when diversity related problems occur. At that point they react to fix these problems at any cost rather than preventing them in the first place at no or lower cost. Their current mindset blinds them from foreseeing what the future holds.

Remember the dictum that says, “Where everyone thinks the same, nobody thinks.” Being surrounded by people who look and think like one is familiar, it makes things easy and feels comfortable. In fact, it takes less energy to address current routine issues. But it does not mean that productivity is optimal. On the contrary, integrating people with diverse experiences and perspectives requires courage and out-of-the-box thinking from the part of leaders.

No one is suggesting that leaders in organizations do not have the right expertise for continuous success. They do. But evidence abounds showing that today’s expertise may suffice to find the right answers to a problem in the now, but does not allow you to generate all the possible answers to solve the next ones, especially if you fail to acknowledge and project the changing demographics of your clientele, constituents, or community.

Ask any failing politician, business, educational systems and you will have similar answers. Often time, they react to fix diversity problems after a huge loss in business or elections, when it is more difficult and very costly. Sometimes, it may already be too late.

If anyone still has any doubt, just look at Circuit City out of business today. In short, in January 2007, Circuit City was warned that it was heading in the wrong direction by constantly narrowing the number of perspectives influencing its business decisions. At that time its stock price averaged $20 a share. It did not listen. By March 2008, its share was trading at $4. In Nov 2008, Circuit City filed for bankruptcy. In March 2009, the share was one cent. At the same time, Best Buy was collecting both vertical and horizontal perspectives and experiences. Most importantly, Best Buy was actively studying the changing demographics of the nation, was including results in their strategic plan and its business plans and hired accordingly.

Circuit City chose to listen to fewer people who thought alike and went out of business. Have you recently checked the status of diversity of the people that make Silicon Valley so successful?

Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D. is President of All World Languages and Cultures, Inc. He consults and coaches on cultures, cultural diversity and languages. He can be reached at info@universalhighways.com.

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