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How Diversity Will Drive Business Growth

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Diversity management is the key to growth in today's fiercely competitive global marketplace. No longer can America's corporations make excuses about their lack of cultural intelligence. Organizations that seek global market relevancy must embrace diversity - in how they think, act and innovate. In today's new workplace, diversity management is a time-sensitive business imperative.

To better understand this fast-changing terrain, I reached out to three notable diversity executives -- pioneers within their respective industries - to share their insights and perspectives regarding the future of diversity and some of the new best practices that will allow diversity to play a more strategic role in cultivating sustainable business growth:

• Dr. Rohini Anand, Chief Diversity Officer, Sodexo
• Ron Glover, Chief Diversity Officer, IBM
• Kathy Hannan, National Managing Partner, Diversity & Corporate Responsibility, KPMG LLP

Make it Real or Lose Your Authenticity

Most corporate leaders pay lip service to diversity but don't really live it. Diversity is more than employee demographics and support for a few non-profits. You can't buy diversity, and organizations that continue to embrace this approach will tarnish their brand. If you are not authentic, consumers and employees will begin to question the sincerity and leadership of your organization.

As Rohini Anand says, "The traditional representation perspective originated from the Civil Right era. This will never go away entirely. However, diversity must go beyond this mentality. At Sodexo, diversity is embedded in our brand. The Sodexo brand is synonymous with diversity. Though the Sodexo brand is not a known consumer brand, diversity leadership defines our brand - it's all about talent. Diversity is about responding to the needs of our clients in a holistic way."

And Kathy Hannan adds, "Companies must take a long term strategic approach to engage diverse talent. Companies must define their role in the global marketplace. The train has left the station. You may not be where you want to be with your diversity strategy, but you need to get started!"
Executives Are Still Short-Sighted

I'm reminded of a pre-recession discussion I had with a consumer goods executive who said: "Diversity is another way of saying affirmative action and we are forced to support it in order to protect our brand in the trade and amongst our consumer audience. Diversity has no real value tangible to the growth of our business." Unfortunately, many executives still share this opinion today.

Rohini Anand says, "Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies have been particularly effective with diversity from a marketing initiative standpoint. However, this is different from embracing diversity holistically. Companies must think about diversity beyond addressing niche needs. Diversity is not just about accessing multicultural markets. Companies must look more broadly to reinvent the way we think about how business is done. How can diversity be pulled out of this commoditized mentality? Diversity leadership must drive innovative perspectives. Companies have not yet figured out how to unlock the potential within markets and processes that must be enabled globally."

Diversity is much more than just a multicultural issue. Diversity is about embracing many different types of people, who stand for different things and represent different cultures, generations, ideas, and thinking. As Ron Glover says, "Innovation is about looking at complex problems and bringing new views to the table. Diversity has allowed IBM to be innovative and successful for 100 years and to work across lines of differences in 172 countries, amongst 427,000 employees."

For example, are you paying attention to the Internet and how online communities continue to grow and represent different voices and points of view - and opinions about your company?

Kathy Hannan notes, "Diversity has moved from a nice-to-have, to a must-have for companies as a strategic business imperative. KPMG has a multinational client base. We must understand their protocols, their ways of doing business. Diversity must move from just a value, to being operational."
Anand adds, "Diversity must drive the formation of new business models. Leaders must think about the changing landscape. The economy is changing, how business is being done is changing, so the question is how can diversity be utilized as a strategic enabler in today's changing landscape."
And Glover says, "Diversity is a core belief of IBM in how we succeed in business. In order for IBM to successfully expand globally, we need a workforce that understands the local market. Our clients are as diverse as our employees. And there are now 5 generations in the workplace. We must focus on building communities inside of IBM to embrace differences to drive innovation globally."

Diversity needs a Refresh

Diversity clearly needs a refresh. The misinterpretations of what diversity means and what it truly represents have limited its ability to have the real impact and influence it warrants in America's corporations. In fact, the executives who get it today will tell you how concerned they are for their business, because their people, products, and services do not connect naturally with the new faces of America. As one executive told me, "Our business demands diversity and we are more uncomfortable with our lack of diversity preparedness than ever before. We are in trouble if we don't fix it!" As a result, most companies have been forced to react not only to the changing face of America and but the mindsets of the global marketplace. Consequently, executives have started to confront the inevitable: a new business model that fully integrates diversity as a business growth enabler.

Kathy Hannan says, "No homogeneous talent pool can be innovative. Diversity is essential. And, there are broader implications across the whole supply chain. Diversity is about how you do business across the board."

The Future of Diversity

To better understand the future of diversity management and its role as a business growth enabler, think back to when Information Technology (IT) was viewed as just a cost center. IT was not associated with driving business growth 20 years ago, but rather as a required cost of doing business. Just like diversity today, many people then thought IT got in the way of business. Today, IT is considered a profit center by many and a high priority for organizations as a business growth enabler. In fact, many CIOs (Chief Information Officers) are next in line for the CEO role.

CDOs (Chief Diversity Officers) will experience many of the same functional role and responsibility shifts as have CIOs. They will not only be required to assume their practitioner responsibilities, but they must also learn to play a more integral strategic role in the design of new business models. Glover notes, "Diversity is a critical leadership success factor at IBM. Globally diverse leaders are maximizing the effectiveness of our teams. IBM has recognized the importance of building teams across the company from different countries. It's not just about leadership, but capability. Diversity is fundamentally focused on talent! Those differences create real opportunities for those who learn to master them and a disaster for those who do not."

Diversity management will begin to develop rapidly, out from under the traditional human resources and talent acquisition roles, to assume more dotted-line responsibilities that will touch corporate strategy, corporate social responsibility, organizational design & effectiveness, corporate marketing and even sales. Therefore, the requirements to be an effective CDO will mean that they must include operating more holistically in a general management and operational capacity to ensure that diversity becomes an embedded mindset with common threads that touch all functional areas (internally) and the supply chain (externally).

Hannan notes, "Good intentions are not a substitute for accountability. Everyone must be accountable for advancing diversity."

How you manage diversity in your organization from today forward will determine your long-term success or failure in the global marketplace.