Workplace diversity and inclusion is increasingly claimed to be one of the most important challenges facing managers today. Today, no one in the United States is denying the changing demographics of the nation, which implies a much more heterogeneous group of clientele to serve and employees for firms to manage.
A number of firms and business executives have proposed a “business case for diversity,” which argues that a more diverse workforce is not necessarily a moral imperative, but is in fact a source of competitive advantage. Company leaders advanced two main reasons to support their point.
First, a more diverse customer base is better served by a more diverse workforce that can effectively communicate with diverse customer subgroups and thus increase productivity and the bottom line.
Second, they assert that “diverse teams produce better results” arguing that heterogeneous team members will provide a broader range of ideas and potential solutions to a given problem.
Unfortunately, for one, most organizations that do not need specific marketing efforts to increase their clientele base by the way of reaching out to diverse constituents do not believe that the business case for diversity applies to them. Therefore, they do not believe that a diverse customer base is better served by a more diverse workforce.
Secondly, most homogeneous teams that are currently productive tend to negate the idea that diverse teams produce better results. For decades, they had developed and continue to apply the same process that led to successful outcomes. For most cases, past successes blind these leaders from considering the prospect of failure if conditions happen to change. Their philosophy is so ingrained in the old ways of doing things that they resist suggestions of adaptation of their old processes, suggestions that would lead to continued success with consideration of the changing demographics.
These retro-minded leaders are found in every industry, professions of all sizes, in politics and non-profits. Often time, they react to fix diversity-related problems after a huge loss in business or elections, or after a lawsuit. Oftentimes, these reactions may already be too late. Previous easy-to-fix problems become more difficult, more costly or simply unsolvable. Examples of failure to address diversity and inclusion abound. Do you remember Circuit City, which today is out of business?
When Circuit City was still productive, it was warned that it was heading in the wrong direction by constantly narrowing the number of perspectives influencing its business decisions. It did not listen. In November of 2008, Circuit City filed for bankruptcy and soon disappeared. Most importantly, Best Buy was actively studying the changing demographics of the nation and adjusted its strategic, business and hiring plans accordingly. They are still around and well. Mirroring themselves to the example of Best Buy, politicians around the nation at various levels from local to national are currently looking for ways to diversify their political strategies to include both physical and cognitive diversity.
In general, organizations such school districts easily find themselves in the category of those that do not believe in the two components of business case for diversity as described above. Students enroll in a school district because parents decide to locate within the geographical boundaries of that district, not because that district has a marketing department to attract more clients. Part II of this article addresses how diversity and inclusion increases productivity in schools.
Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D. is President of All World Languages and Cultures, Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-888-646-5656