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Diversity, diversity, diversity.

When you say a word too many times, it starts to sound like an alien word. It loses its meaning in your head, doesn’t it?

Does that ever happen with the word “diversity?” Do we use it too much, as if it’s important just as a rule? Do we start to let the logical demand for diversity in business to bypass our actions and decision-making?

If you were considering a candidate, and you knew she’d graduated from your alma mater, you may have a bias toward selecting her, and you may just hire her in the end. The diversity piece gets checked off the list in that you abided by the extant laws and your pool of interviewees was appropriately diverse, as managed by HR. Would “diversity” have brought you better skills or a higher-performing team?

I myself get fuzzy sometimes on the logic. From a marketing and communications standpoint I’ve spent hours and hours–like up until midnight on a Sunday night–trying to find the perfect marketing image that represents both the business message I need to convey, as well as diversity…perfectly. If you’ve ever heard marketing people in a room vetoing one picture after another, you’d see how inane it can become:

“Oh wait, we can’t use that because the African-American guy is standing behind the Caucasian guy in that picture.”

“Well, how about this photo? It’s got the perfect image, the right amount of whitespace to handle our logo, the right shading, right dimensions…” 

“Nope – You’re missing an Asian in that one. Back to the drawing board.”

This is the stuff decently-paid folks spend hours and hours doing. Is this what it’s come to? Operating inefficiently to create illustrative fiction just to abide by written, and some unwritten, rules? Why are we doing all this?

Well, here’s the bottom line. It affects …the bottom line. And we forget that.

Why Diversity Matters Diversity

1. Diversity represents the real customer/client/buyer world.

This isn’t just about mirroring to drive affinity (Ooh! The Apple store genii look like nerds, like me!). It’s about having active voices on the inside that think like the end customer, not like the nearest customer… the boss who signs everyone’s paychecks.

For example, about seven years ago some companies discovered how important it is to hire, and listen to, minority groups. In this example it was the minority group of people who accessed e-mails, newsletters, and websites not via their fat stationary PC screens, but via their mobile devices. These mobile phone junkies ended up giving their employers a critical advantage by making them aware of the growing demand for mobile-enabled content.

Smart company leaders would say “put a few more people on this think tank team – draw from outside our little homogenous group.” The group invites one of the mobile junkies to the think tank discussion and BAM. Instead of “yes” men, the leader has a person in the room saying “I keep hear you saying you are spending all this money on these marketing newsletters and online programs, but you can’t get people to click through; I know I would click through but I can’t ever read your newsletters because it doesn’t display properly on my mobile device.” Mobile-enabled responsive content, you say? BOOM. The CEO just got ahead of the competition and probably made several million bucks by inviting a few extra people into the room.

2. More perspectives increase the chance that the final decision will be the right one.

If you have one idea to consider, there is a low chance it’s the right one. If you have ten people in a room but they are all of similar backgrounds, you may get ten ideas, but those ideas are likely all drawn from one narrow pool of ideas. From a probability standpoint, you need a bunch of ideas, and ideas that are not overlapping in origin, to have a chance at selecting the best idea (or option or approach) for your company.

If a room were filled with a diverse mix of people, who bring diverse (not overlapping) knowledge to the table, there is a greater chance the full breadth of ideas will be brought to bear. A leader need to know, when she’s making a choice or decision, that her team has brought all the best options to the table. Homogenous brains and backgrounds are just statistically less likely to provide a 360-degree mix of knowledge and ideas.

When Flickr’s founders first created the service that enabled the sharing of photos, they had created as a small service within a larger product. It is a very disruptive idea to think “what if we throw away the entire rest of our product and focus on this one tiny service that seems to be getting a lot of demand.”

Perhaps for Flickr, which originated as a wife-and-husband-owned company, they were small enough to come to that idea on their own. But for larger companies, I wonder if a groundbreaking idea would see the light of day. A company would need people who think differently from the leaders who are, at that point, driving the existing product’s operations. Yet those disruptive thinkers would need to be operating at the same level as other key decision-makers in order to build support for their ideas.

Think of the movie “Mr. Mom” wherein Teri Garr gives her big ‘disruptive idea’ Schooner Tuna speech to the company president. A room full of highly-paid ‘suits,’ but none offer any original ideas for discussion until the odd-man-out, Teri Garr, walks into the room. Granted that was a fictional movie, but as it portrays, diversity is required at all levels within a company if the leadership is going to have access to new ideas.

3. Diversity gives the company the best chance at acquiring the best minds.

It is simply unlikely that a small subsection of the population, say white hetero males, is going to represent all of the best and brightest humans.

To tap into the best and brightest, you would need to start with the largest possible pool of candidates, of all races, ages, and nationalities, and then filter for best skills and experience. If you start with white wealthy men (or whatever your bias may be) you could be perpetually weakening your team by overlooking candidates with better skills. Those candidates will be hired by your competitors and you will cease to be able to keep up. Companies need the best fish from the biggest pond, not big fish in small ponds.

Why do the skills matter? Well the food chain is this: the employees’ skills drive the performance of the company, be that great web design, or great code, great toy design, great hotel service, visionary marketing, etc.

The quality of the product or service the company sells to the customer makes the customer decide to either keep giving money to the company (buying more) or to stop. That makes or breaks revenue and growth.

Shareholders will respond in a way that either drives up the stock values, or drives it down. The stock value and overall company performance is going to catch the eye of the Board of Directors. And the Board will hold the CEO and company leadership accountable for performance and will determine rewards accordingly.

If performance is poor, leadership is going to yell “We need better-skilled employees to ensure we deliver a better product so customers spend more money with us! We need the best people!”

They’ll tell recruiters to go hire the best candidates. These candidates will check out the company’s website, and look at the leadership team, and have conversations with local directors and managers during their interviews. If the candidates see themselves mirrored in the environment, there is a chance they will assess that this company is a good employer for them, one in which they will thrive. They’ll determine this company’s culture is the type they seek.

But if candidates look at the marketing content online, and see the lineup of leaders, and visit the office on interview day and determine “there just isn’t anyone here like me,” they may decide to turn down the job.

If Leadership hears it’s tough for recruiting to attract the best-skilled candidates, suddenly the meaning of the word “Diversity” is clear. It becomes the Holy Grail, front and center. It’s about establishing a culture that pervades all areas of the company that supports people of all backgrounds and cultures so their strengths can thrive within the company to help the company compete.

This post is as much for me as it is for you. It reminds that I’m not just wasting time when I have to look through hundreds of “people” pictures just to get one marketing piece done. There is  no one face to this world. To attract the best of the best we all need to start with this mindset “I don’t know who I’m looking for, but I can bet they aren’t likely to be a carbon copy of me.”




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Diversity – Remind me again why we’re always talking about it?2 Comments

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