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How to better value diversity in the workplace

While diversity can seemingly pose a big challenge to businesses, it is also a wonderful catalyst for growth, creativity, innovation and allows for genuine competitive advantage, says Sarah Pearce. Here's how to make the most of it in your workplace.

Diversity in the workplace is a subject riddled with social and emotional landmines. Many organisations deal with it by simply avoiding the topic altogether. That’s no surprise really, especially, when we see headlines like the one that broke just last week: “Facebook has a Black People Problem.” Facebook has faced an onslaught of technological failures and data handling accusations, but this headline is a bit different, and will surely make many leaders second-guess their own diversity policies. After all, Facebook’s headquarters lie in Silicon Valley, one of the most diverse and progressive areas in the world… If they can’t get diversity right there, what hope do we have anywhere else, right?

Still, it’s important to realise that even though diversity can pose a big challenge in business, particularly for the HR department, once we identify and implement sound diversity policies and training it can be a wonderful catalyst for growth, creativity, innovation and allow for genuine competitive advantage. It makes sense, because when we surround ourselves with others who hold a different worldview to our own, we get to see things from a different perspective, hear their stories, interpretations, preferences, concerns. We get to open our minds and (as Steve Jobs advocated) “think different.” This helps us grow, both personally and professionally, and add more value to our business and our customers as a result.

A key component in any successful business is realising that your customer base should extend far beyond those that are like you. The best way to serve a diverse customer base is to ensure that your organisation has a diverse set of employees that can speak to different concerns, needs, and desires. And while Facebook may be failing at this (at least according to one former employee) other companies are successfully promoting diversity in ways that are leading to meaningful social and cultural change. Let’s learn from two of them.

NZ Case Study: Fonterra

Fonterra, whose research and development office is located in Palmerston North, received the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award in 2017, and is recognized by Deloitte for their diversity policies as well.

Their policies, which stem from a business initiative they put in place called Fonterra Disrupt, sought to foster diverse viewpoints, increase diversity among senior leadership, and implement initiatives to assist with diversity at the ground level. This includes programs that develop Maori leaders, scholarships for the economically disadvantaged and partnerships with outside organisations that promote diversity, including Global Women and Champions for Change.

Initially run as a pilot in Austraila, China and New Zealand in 2016, Disrupt went global in 2017 and the differences are being seen everywhere. In Saudi Arabia, their female employee population went from 0 to 8% - a huge leap in a country that has additional cultural barriers that make workplace diversity even more challenging.

The company also forms international teams that work together to solve complex problems which spur further innovation since their teams are made up of individuals with different skills, backgrounds, and worldviews. This is Fonterra’s key strategy to solving complex problems, and it is working very well for them.

Case Study: Hyatt International

Hyatt Hotels Corporation is another company that is often lauded for its diversity policies. And while they have been ranked as one of the most diverse and inclusive companies for the last several years, they remain committed to these principles and continue to lead the front in terms of adopting better policies that promote diversity.

Earlier this year, they joined 2 major global diversity initiatives. The first is CEO Act!on for Diversity & Inclusion. This initiative features over 400 C-suite executives across industries and around the world who commit to 3 key organisation actions that encourage positive change.

  1. To support open discussions regarding diversity and inclusion within the company.
  2. To expand training that addresses unconscious bias.
  3. To share best practices with their larger community.

Hyatt also signed on as a supporter of the United Nations LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business. This global set of standards contains 5 core principles designed to protect people from discrimination based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Though these actions are the most recent pledges that Hyatt has made, they have long been recognized as a top performer, even earning a perfect 100% rating on the annual Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index every year since 2005. In addition, the company is regularly featured as one of Forbes and Fortune’s top-rated companies for diversity.

So, while diversity in the workplace continues to be a challenge for many businesses, and the path to embracing it is not simple, perhaps the first step is understanding that rather than “managing” diversity, we should instead be valuing it – and appreciating just how much it can enrich our own lives, as well as the success of our business. As these case studies clearly demonstrate, when diversity is welcomed and enjoyed, it can be an excellent asset.

Sarah Pearce is a professional speaker, business coach, social strategist and author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age

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