Diversity as a business opportunity

Diversity and Inclusion is a hot agenda for organisations today. If your company is considering diversity for the sake of diversity, or for the sake for appearances or for the sake of ticking the box and complying with demands, it is missing the point utterly.

The January presenter of CHN (Coaching without Border), Rina Goldenberg Lynch, the founder and CEO of Voice At The Table said that embracing diversity and inclusion must become central to any leadership strategy if the company wants to continue to thrive in the future.

It was also one of the most discussed topic at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held in Davos in January 2018.

Researchers have outlined four global mega-trends that are reshaping the environment, influencing business priorities, and emphasizing the need for harnessing corporate diversity:

  • MARKETS:  By 2025, the world’s middle -class population will be 3.2 billion (up from 1.8 billion in 2009). So emerging markets have a growing, well-off middle class which presents the single biggest growth opportunity for many companies around the world.
  • CUSTOMERS: With the help of technology and abundance of choice, customers are becoming more and more sophisticated in their expectations and are demanding better personalisation of products and services.
  • IDEAS:  “Innovate or Die” Bill Gates. No-one will argue with the need for rapid innovation in any business.  Digital technology, inter-connectivity and deregulation are rapidly changing the value proposition of businesses and the way we compete with each other.
  • TALENT: It is not uncommon nowadays to find five different generations represented in the workplace.  Add to this increasing levels of education, changes in migration flows and the more commonplace expectation of equality of opportunity and work/life balance, and you are looking at a more demanding and sophisticated employee populations. For example by 2050 one third of the global population will be 65+. Or by 2030 there will be more graduates in China than the entire US workforce.

The answer to successfully addressing each of these mega-trends is the organisation's ability to draw out and capitalise on the diversity of its people.

To leverage diversity to business opportunities there are several steps you need to achieve:

Learn how to listen

A good listener conveys trust and commitment, and shows others that they care about them. It is only when you actively listen to others you can tap into what is driving them and their behaviours. It is also when you can notice things about them that are not obvious, like their preferences, fears, differences etc.

There is a good saying you should always keep in mind and ask yourself: “Am I listening with the intention to respond or with the intention to understand?”

Switch on your Unconscious Bias Radar

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is the brain’s way to group similar facts and experiences and arrive at quick judgements without spending too much time with analysing all data. Our brain receives 11 million bits of information every moment. However our brain can only consciously process 40 bits. This means 99.9% of our mental processing happens subconsciously. Therefore, we need our brain to take mental shortcuts help us make decisions.

So we all have unconscious bias, which can limit us. Most of the time, we are unaware of our unconscious bias and when we judge others unconsciously. How to address it?

This is where we have to make a conscious effort to switch on our Unconscious Bias Radar. So next time you assume that a woman with children will not be interested in taking up a secondment overseas, ask yourself, am I judging her by my own standards or is there any objective evidence that helped me come to that conclusion?

Develop empathy (understand the impact of your words and actions on others) and challenging our own assumption and judgement is the first step to overcoming unhelpful unconscious bias. Only afterwards you can value individual diversity by exploring questions like:

  • How can we maximize our individual diversity at work?
  • What makes you different from others?
  • How can your difference give you an edge at work?

Adopt a “Disruptor” approach

The theory of disruption states that your chance of success will be 6x higher and your revenue opportunity 20x greater when you pursue a disruptive course. Not just for your company, but for you (who you are and what you do). So to achieve success, you harness rather than merely cope with disruption – according to Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself. Business and ideas that go against the mainstream gain with such vigour so as to displace entire industries and change the way we interact with the world. Think of Uber, AirBnB, Amazon E-Bay, 3-D printing. To adopt such an approach you have to question not only your assumption but everything that you take for granted. Allowing diversity to be expressed openly in the workplace can enormously help in creating a culture that promotes creativity and experimental thinking.

Diversity is best at solving complex challenges! 

Growth Mindset and Diversity

Diversity of thought goes hand in hand with growth mindset. Openness to learning, take on challenges, see failures as opportunities to learn, bring in different perspectives and embracing others’ ideas is a stepping-stone towards embracing diversity, be it gender or any other type. People who are open to diverse thinking will tend to be more growth mindset oriented, so the easiest way to nurture a growth mindset culture is to invite in diversity.

How many women on your board?

Considering gender balanced cultures this is the one of the top questions to consider. How many women sit and actively participate on the higher decision making bodies of your organisation? If not why? How can you change that? A more balanced board can make better decisions, return higher share capital and ensure the company takes greater responsibility in society at large. This, in turn, will increase customer and employee loyalty, instil trust and improve governance.

Hopefully you have found a number of things that your company can do in order to take advantage of gender and other types of diversity. Prior to any decision you may wish to consider the following strategic questions on diversity and inclusion.

  • What kind of diversity do you need?
  • What are the challenges in attracting it?
  • How do you overcome those challenges?
  • How can you maximise the value of diversity?
  • How can you retain diversity?

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