Diversity in organizations: Writing the next chapter

Diversity has both tangible and intangible benefits for individuals and organizations. Time and time again, academic research documents a strong positive connection between a company’s workforce diversity and its overall success in terms of employee recruitment and retention, sales revenue, market share and overall organizational effectiveness — in other words, every metric by which traditional business success is defined.

Additionally, research has shown that firms with strong gender diversity in their leadership ranks yield a higher return to shareholders.

My own research and consulting activities, including working with IBM, H.J. Heinz Co. and Alcoa, have demonstrated the power of diversity in organizations, especially when paired with robust mentoring and development programs, supportive leadership and empowered employees.

Recognize new opportunities

While much progress has been made, we’ve only completed the first chapter in the diversity narrative. In our current state, most organizations still perceive diversity in demographic terms alone.

Seeing the initial progress and the visibility of women and people of color in leadership positions in global organizations, some may, mistakenly, conclude that the challenges and obstacles associated with diversity have been addressed.

It’s time for us to turn the page on that old way of thinking. To be successful in a global environment, organizations must embrace diversity as a strategic driver for every business unit, recognizing it as an opportunity to foster new innovation and collaboration.

Studies show that diverse teams, workplaces and cultures produce new ideas and are more agile to adapt to changing business trends and market conditions.

A deliberate process

Changing our perspective of diversity isn’t easy and requires challenging our current views, approaches and systems that are warped by the assumption that we know better than they do, since they are different.

It also means having HR systems in place to develop employees not only when they join an organization or step into a leadership role, but as a constant process of continuous improvement.

At the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration, diversity is a core component of our strategy, and it has to be, for our mission is to take students on an educational journey from the classroom, to the city, to the world. How can you accomplish this journey without embracing a diverse worldview?

This academic year, Pitt Business is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first admitted class. Looking back, we were nowhere near the diverse organization that we are today. We’ve improved because we have identified diversity as a strategic driver, reinforcing it through the proper systems and controls.

It’s time for businesses in Pittsburgh and across the world to write the next chapter in diversity, beginning with placing a higher value on the exchange of knowledge from people and cultures different than our own.

Moving away from leadership that manages diversity to leadership that learns from diversity has the potential to unlock innovative solutions to key challenges faced by organizations today and in the future. What an exciting next chapter it will be for us to write.