Leveraging a Diverse Workforce
Leveraging diversity is contingent upon the interlinking of the workforce, workplace structure and the marketplace according to Julie O'Mara. She explains:
Peter Bye, corporate diversity director for AT&T confirms, "you need to make the linkage between the individual and the organization. If we really have an environment which brings out different perspectives, and use those in a productive way, then business products and services can improve." At Honeywell, Patsy Randell, vice-president, corporate diversity and multicultural business affairs, adds, "We want to make sure we are thinking and executing from a multicultural perspective on all levels-internally, externally, domestically, and internationally. As a global company, it is very clear, whether we travel or not, we are a multicultural organization. Multiculturism recognizes that diversity is broad, it touches talent, customers, suppliers, relationships in general, and the work environment and company culture. These components tie this directly to business strategy and practices."
Proving cultural diversity can be leveraged for bottom-line impact and top-line growth is less important than recognizing that cultural diversity is a reality to be dealt with-just like a global economy, volatile markets, changing technology, and any other business issue. The important thing is ensuring that an organization has addressed systemic actions for ensuring an inclusive environment that leverages its talent of all kinds at all levels. Anderson J. Franklin, asserts, "We should be just as challenged at managing a diverse workforce as we are challenged by developing, marketing and promoting our products." Fannie Mae's CEO Jim Johnson concludes: "Run diversity like any solid business function. Establish hard goals, maintain hard responsibility and accountability, measure progress, fix problems, and you will succeed."
We are reminded, continuously, that this is a journey, a learning process. When thought of in the context of continuous improvement, we realize we may make mistakes, that change is constant forcing the continuous evolution of our organizations, but that built upon core values, strong leadership commitment, and effective strategies, organizations can leverage cultural diversity to organizational and individual success.
Each of us has responsibility to make diversity, cross-cultural communication, and relationships work. Organizations also have responsibility to ensure they create a work environment where people can make a difference. Valerie Crane, executive vice-president corporate diversity development at Bank of America observes, "We are in a balancing act where everyone can thrive. Corporate culture crosses all geographies, and we have to balance global with local needs, corporate values with local, and ensure a culture of inclusion." CEOs are "looking for a corporate culture that fosters learning and sharing and exchanging of ideas so that corporations can impart that knowledge corporate-wide," says Melissa Berman, senior vice-president, research and program development, at The Conference Board, and author of "How CEOs Drive Global Growth."
"Walk together, talk together all ye peoples of the earth. Then, and only then, shall ye have peace." This motto of AFS International, from the Sanskrit, teaches us a basic concept: We can only have peace and understanding when we learn to talk, walk together, and communicate across our differences. One executive interviewed exclaimed: "What concerns me in American diversity is that we don't stop and think that difference may be a cultural misunderstanding. It may not be racist, homophobic, but expressing something from a cultural perspective. We need to talk to clear it up for accuracy."
We have an opportunity to dispel myths, and to find out who people really are and what they can do. When we see the tip of the iceberg are we seized with fear? Or, do we turn on the navigational system and explore the riches the iceberg can reveal? Are companies getting the mindshare of their employees, or are they just touching the tip of the iceberg? Embracing cultural differences is a choice we all have to make for ourselves. If we choose to act, to make a difference, we will have richer lives and will likely achieve profitable, sustainable, organizational success.