Diversity or Die: Why Companies Need to Embrace Diversity or Risk Being Left Behind

23 Feb 2009

By: Barry Salzberg, CEO, Deloitte LLP

Over the past several years, corporate America has put an intense focus on diversity and inclusion. As we enter the latter part of this decade, it's a good time to stop and ask, "How is American business doing when it comes to diversity?"

I'd say as a group, we've certainly made progress from when I began my career in 1977, but we're also not where I'd hoped to be by the time my sons entered the business world. Unfortunately, I don't think we've quite reached the midway point between the two. Most businesses still are not as diverse as they should (or could) be, especially within the executive ranks. Too many ceilings are still in place: glass for some people, cement for others. But I know many managers and business leaders are honestly committed to changing that situation. And my hope is that the pace of change will finally begin to accelerate.

So why all the recent talk about diversifying talent? Consider this: In 2007, the Level Playing Field Institute issued key finding from a large-scale survey that concluded U.S. employers spent $64 billion as a result of losing and replacing professionals and managers who quit solely due to workplace unfairness - events ranging from racial and sexual discrimination to public humiliation. The realisation of the massive amounts of money and reputation at stake is driving companies to become more inclusive, to create diverse teams that can work collaboratively and add to the bottom line, not detract from it. Supporting evidence can be found in a number of recent studies demonstrating the benefits of having a diverse employee base on everything from driving productivity to being more appealing to customers.

For these reasons, American companies are throwing themselves into the diversity effort as never before. Many have hired chief diversity officers and created diversity scorecards. Some companies have developed special training for employees to help them be more sensitive to cultural differences and more mindful of other ways of working. Others are focusing on new employees, implementing special orientation programs to help diverse hires thrive.

As a leader, I look forward to the time when assembling a diverse team is as easy as filling a glass with water. But until we get there, if we want to transform our companies into all-inclusive, globally competitive organisations, we have to manage diversity.

Diversity Management 101

Hiring is only the first step in building a diverse organisation. Unfortunately, in the past, too many companies paid less attention to what comes after the contract is signed, which explains why our executive suits are still so largely white and male. The real work of managing a diverse-talent pipeline doesn't happen in the HR function. It happens in the offices, in the field, in the everyday course of doing business as we develop our employees' talents and skill sets, providing them with real-life work experiences that stretch their capabilities and help them learn from others.

As managers, we must help all of our people find their niche in the organisation based not only on their skills but also on their passions. And we need to make sure that when we staff projects, we do more than consider the needs of the client - we also need to look carefully at the needs of our people: Will the task stretch them in the right direction? Move their career forward? And we must encourage our people to build the formal and informal networks that help them build important relationships while getting their work done.

Marrying Corporate Culture and Diversity

Every company that says it is dedicated to diversity needs to ask themselves a few hard questions: Does our corporate culture really accept the differences it invites? Do we really embrace the different perspectives that come from increasing our commitment to recruiting minorities, or do we secretly think that it's all just the "politically correct" way to act?

We need to answer these questions honestly, because change cannot take hold if it's promoted on one side of the organisation and stymied on the other.

The key issue that companies have to tackle is integrating diversity and inclusion into their DNA. For me, that means we have to make sure diversity is an intentional part of every recruiting decision, every team assembled for an assignment, every educational opportunity, every promotion and every compensation decision.

To be successful, this process needs to be driven from the top, with real buy-in at every level of management. Diversity is not something you do on the side - not if you want to be successful - and it can't be separate from the "real" business of the firm. If you want to be competitive, you have to have a diverse and inclusive workforce - period.

Winston Churchill once said: "The price of greatness is responsibility." He was talking about how to ensure greatness for a country, but I think it's just as true for a company. If we want our businesses to remain competitive, if we want our companies to be great idea generators and problem solvers for our clients and great places to work, we have a responsibility to ensure that diversity and inclusion efforts succeed.

Article taken from DiversityInc Magazine