3 for 3: Diversity in 21st-century Business (Infographic)
Distancing the concept from its compliance-driven, 20th-century origins, a recent Deloitte report argues that:
“Diversity is not a program or a marketing campaign to recruit staff. … A diverse workforce is a company’s lifeblood, and diverse perspectives and approaches are the only means of solving complex and challenging business issues. Deriving the value of diversity means uncovering all talent, and that means creating a workplace characterized by inclusion.”
The US Census Bureau echoes this progressive understanding of diversity in the workplace. Using an interesting, spectrum-oriented definition, the bureau suggests diversity is:
“… all of the ways in which we differ. Among these differences exist visibly apparent characteristics such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, and physical ability and less obvious characteristics such as field/HQ, marital status, sexual orientation, parental status, introvert/extravert, survey/administration, union affiliation, educational background, geographic location, and work experience. Effectively managing diversity means including people with differences in the design and implementation of programs and valuing their contributions.”
Studio Hyperset’s focus on transnational dialogue and geographic independence has allowed it to build a very diverse team, and we benefit from a cross-cultural spectrum of experiences every day. However, since diversity is coded into our cultural values and organizational DNA, these have done most of our heavy-lifting for us. We’ve never had to undertake a proactive “diversity initiative” or otherwise consider exactly (a) what diversity means to us and other organizations, (b) how organizations like ours benefit from diversity, or (c) what sorts of systems organizations use to build diverse teams.
To help us understand the mechanisms of modern diversity a little better, we asked three people we admire to discuss the meaning and value of diversity and, more specifically, the significance of female leadership in the 21st century.
What is Diversity?
Lizelle van Vuuren is CEO & Founder of Women Who Startup. She notes:
“To me, diversity means: thinking in dissimilar ways. And that’s where the magic happens.”
Diversity isn’t a quick-fix, though, or a panacea. Lizelle continues:
“Diversity requires time and change management. Once instituted, we have to allow diverse perspectives to combine into one great idea or plan. Otherwise, diversity may simply lead to conflict. Diversity requires intellect, something my mom has been saying to me since my early twenties. Diversity will be tough for those who don’t have an open mind or otherwise resist new information or new perspectives. Diversity is a good thing when it elevates a group or team. If it only creates conflict, something should be changed.”
The Deloitte “Global Human Capital Trends” report referenced above also encourages organizations to integrate diversity into their organizations judiciously:
“… [H]igh performing organizations recognize that the aim of diversity is not just meeting compliance targets, but tapping into the diverse perspectives and approaches each individual employee brings to the workplace. Moving beyond diversity to focus on inclusion as well requires companies to examine how fully the organization embraces new ideas, accommodates different styles of thinking (such as whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert), creates a more flexible work environment, enables people to connect and collaborate, and encourages different types of leaders.”
Diversity — especially when more or less homogeneous organizations leverage it for the first time — operates best when it’s approached less like a light switch and more like an exercise regimen. Organizations should first make a commitment to diversity, then formulate a plan to integrate it, and then undertake the various tactical initiatives that will, after a period of acclimation and “training,” activate diversity’s benefits.
Why is diversity valuable to businesses?
Considering the nature of leadership in the 21st century, Wendy Mosher, CEO of New West Genetics, argues there’s “a shift in the cultural consciousness”:
“There’s a CEO stereotype out there involving older men who think business is all about making tough decisions solo, about holding all of the ultimate power, about hiring and firing with abandon, &c. But I believe that form of leadership is dying out. Younger generations are far more willing to work collaboratively and figure out how to incentivize instead of punish. … This is how I see my role at my company: keeping the big picture moving forward by talking through strategic decisions and coming to agreement collaboratively.”
Supporting Wendy’s intuitive sense of things with interview data, Deloitte’s “Global Human Capital Trends” report notes:
“While nearly one-quarter of executives (23 percent) believe their companies have done an ‘excellent’ job creating a culture of inclusiveness, and defining what it means (24 percent), the overwhelming majority rate their effort as ‘adequate’ or ‘weak.'”
As Wendy and Lizelle suggest, diversity, inclusiveness, and working collaboratively often go hand-in-hand. As such, if, as the Deloitte report argues, business leaders are aware of their inclusion gap, perhaps that awareness represents a generational shift searching for solutions. To fix the gap, the report suggests leaders focus less “on programs” and more on “cultural change”: “behaviors, systems and symbols, and an explicit understanding of the extent and causes of ‘covering’ in organizations.”
Why does fixing diversity, inclusiveness, and collaboration gaps matter to businesses, though? Wendy offers three interesting benefits.
- First, she suggests homogeneous, exclusive, and uncooperative businesses cultures risk minimizing or missing out on important talent resources:
“Gender or race discrimination tends to hide talented people. To avoid this, I always check myself by asking, ‘Who else was there but did not get the opportunity?'”
- Second, Wendy suggests diverse teams are better positioned to acquire new customers:
“As we improve economic accessibility for women and other minorities, markets grow. Businesses who hire diverse teams have dedicated voices in those new markets, voices that can help target new customers in their own ‘languages.'”
- Third, Wendy argues businesses with diverse, inclusive, and collaborative human resources have enhanced problem-solving skills:
“Since problem solving techniques can vary from culture to culture, handing complex problems to more diverse teams has the potential to generate more ingenious solutions.”
On Women in Leadership Roles
“The days of hierarchical leadership are over and if any leader can create a community with a clear purpose that resonates with people’s values, then everyone succeeds.”
Hope believes women, by nature, are well-positioned to build these new leadership models:
“Studies are showing that women are more relationship-oriented and have a higher emotional intelligence. This creates more collaborative work environments.”
Hope’s optimism notwithstanding, the current state of female leadership suggests we have a long way to go. The Center for American Progress provides the following statistics:
Although they hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions: They are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
They hold just 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.
In the financial services industry, they make up 54.2 percent of the labor force, but are only 12.4 percent of executive officers, and 18.3 percent of board directors. None are CEOs.
They account for 78.4 percent of the labor force in health care and social assistance but only 14.6 percent of executive officers and 12.4 percent of board directors. None, again, are CEOs.
In the legal field, they are 45.4 percent of associates—but only 25 percent of nonequity partners and 15 percent of equity partners.
In medicine, they comprise 34.3 percent of all physicians and surgeons but only 15.9 percent of medical school deans.
In information technology, they hold only 9 percent of management positions and account for only 14 percent of senior management positions at Silicon Valley startups.
Women accounted for just 16 percent of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors who worked on the top-grossing 250 domestic films of 2013, and were just 28 percent of all offscreen talent on broadcast television programs during the 2012-13 prime time season.
Two things can help improve these statistics, and we need each to make any headway:
- Decision-makers reach diversity tipping points and reorganize their business cultures according to inclusive and collaborative best-practices.
- Strong, empowered women continue focusing on these professional gaps and qualifying themselves for top jobs.
Perhaps the most important adjustment any workplace can make with respect to female leaders (and employees) involves being sensitive to the needs of working mothers. Hope suggests that employers who support their working mothers tend to see “increased retention rates and employment longevity.” With remote work and other kinds of flexible workspaces on the rise, it’s easier than ever to support female leaders and employees.
These same geographically agnostic systems also make it easier for businesses to incorporate viewpoints and teammates from all over the world. In the past, looping in new voices and cultural perspectives might have required significant operational and office space retooling. In the 21st-century, however, it’s never been easier or less expensive to begin building inclusive, collaborative business cultures that leverage the benefits of global-thinking and diversity