Embracing diversity; finding common denominators

While technology enables faster and greater connectivity, humans who use that technology are becoming more fragmented. It is easy to live and work without really connecting. The problem is that this work can be mediocre.

Fragmentation within organizations creates a tribal us vs. them culture. Yet strong leaders can bring teams closer and ensure long-term success by embracing the unique qualities of individuals.

A case for diversity

Bringing an “all men (and women) are created equal” philosophy to business has proven economic benefits.

The workforce is more diverse, so recruiting accordingly leads to more qualified teams. Diversity reduces employee turnover and its associated costs. Tolerance and acceptance are promoted, not a hostile work environment that forces employees to leave. In terms of results, innovative companies foster diversity to breed creativity. A diverse workforce can also appeal to consumer markets.

Leveraging talent regardless of gender, race, creed, background and viewpoints is not only an American value, it’s essential to succeeding in business.

Redirect us vs. them

Unfortunately, us vs. them can exist not only in broader society, but also within organizations. This leads to power struggles — power is about who has it versus who does not, which leads to discord, pain, anger and negative emotions.

The solution lies in understanding commonalities. While unique circumstances and experiences are real and important, in many ways we are also more similar than dissimilar. It takes courage to recognize the differences and harness that toward a common purpose. Similar to a stock portfolio, fostering diversified teams is more sustainable over the long term for our companies and our communities.

Feed the diversity

To cultivate a healthy and inclusive environment, leaders need to visibly celebrate differences. They need to model the behaviors and attitudes that will breed compassion and company success.

But employees don’t need to wait for “the” leader; they can seek common denominators. Not all workplace interaction is about project components, resources and deadlines. Even if we don’t admit it, a lot of time and energy is devoted to the personal and personality — mostly negative emotions and blame when it doesn’t go smoothly.

Think of a co-worker with whom you don’t always see eye to eye. Take them to coffee or lunch. Ask questions about what makes them the individuals they are. Be willing to share the same about yourself. Seek to understand, and investigate how you are, in fact, similar. Use these commonalities as a basis for your relationship and find creative ways to leverage differences. Where you are weak or less well equipped, the other person may be strong and have different insights; the result benefits the entire team.

Open mindedness

This month, Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. welcomes another diverse class into two programs, Leadership Pittsburgh and Leadership Development Initiative, in order to cultivate leaders who are engaged and ready to build stronger teams, companies and communities. Regardless of where these participants may have come from, where we are going in the future will be built upon a shared vision of understanding, mutual respect and compassion.

 

Aradhna M. Oliphant is the President and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. LPI strengthens regional leadership by connecting current and emerging leaders and high-potential veterans with each other and with people and issues that shape communities. Under her leadership, demand for LPI programs has grown exponentially. A graduate of LPI, Aradhna is deeply committed to the region and serves on many boards. Born and raised in India, she holds a MBA from Rutgers University, a master’s in psychology from Bhopal University, and is the recipient of honorary doctorates from Robert Morris University and Waynesburg University. Aradhna is the proud mother of two grown sons.