The importance of diversity

As companies look to expand by offering their products and services to
more people, it is becoming increasingly important for them to have a diversified work force to help attract a diversified
customer base.

“The ability to have a strong, diverse customer base can be associated with a company having a strong and diverse employee base,” says Lynn Shore, professor of
management and co-director of the
Institute for Inclusiveness and Diversity in
Organizations (IIDO) at San Diego State

Smart Business talked to Shore about
the importance of diversity and inclusiveness inside the company as it relates to the
business world.

What are some of the benefits of diversity?

With diversity, an organization is in a
position to be more competitive in a number of ways. A company can really benefit
if it seeks to have a diverse customer base.
By having a mix of employees, a company
can have a greater understanding of how to
market to diverse customer groups and
how to serve customers with diverse backgrounds.

Another benefit is to gain more perspective. Basically, through diversity, you can
have a better quality of decision-making
because, as a company, you have access to
different view points.

Diversity allows a company to adapt to a
changing environment. Research shows if
a company is too homogenous — in other
words, its members are too similar — its
ability to adapt decreases. Today, companies are often faced with quickly changing
environments, and they need the ability to
adapt quickly to those changes.

Companies with a diverse work force can
provide a greater supply of solutions to
problems; in service recovery efforts, companies can coming up with different solutions to product development, and tackle
problems concerning the allocation of
resources. So you find that employees
from diverse backgrounds bring a variety
of individual talents and experiences that
allow them to suggest ideas that are flexible and adapt to fluctuating markets.

Finally, diversity also increases the organization’s ability to attract and retain
employees. By valuing diversity, a company
becomes an employer of choice because it
employs different kinds of people.

Why is diversity an important organizational

Diversity is no longer simply a buzzword.
It is a reality. The work force is getting
more diverse in terms of new entrants,
including a large number of racial minorities and immigrants. So we know diversity
in the traditional sense is increasing. But it
is also being thought of in a broader way
today than it was in the past. Diversity no
longer consists of just different races or
genders; it now includes age, sexual orientation, disability, religion, cultures and

Interestingly, discussions of diversity are
starting to include things like educational
diversity as well as professional background differences among employees. The
key here is that there are differences in perspectives and experiences. Basically, if organizational leaders don’t consider diversity a strategic issue they’re simply not
preparing for the future of the company.

How does a company embrace diversity?

By focusing on inclusiveness. Human
beings have a basic need to belong.
However, the history in this country and
certainly in a lot of organizations has been
a focus on excluding people who are different. So organizations need to create
policies, practices and behaviors that
demonstrate inclusiveness — practices
that communicate to people that they
belong and are respected. These kinds of
practices will in turn create trust among
the employees, and trust is a strong and
important foundation for any organization.

What innovative practices are being done in
the name of diversity?

Some of these practices include recruiting, hiring and promoting diverse people.
Things like making sure people of color
and women are on the board of directors
and having diverse people at the highest
levels of the company are all important
because they send a signal that the company values diversity and that diverse people can be entrusted to run the company.
Companies should also consider charitable donations to groups that support diversity as well as rewards for fostering, mentoring and recruiting diversity. People
need to be rewarded for ‘walking their

Some companies also make sure to celebrate holidays of all cultural groups,
such as Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa and
Hanukkah. While many companies provide diversity training, such training is not
enough on its own. Companies need to
develop a strategy and execute it consistently to create a climate of diversity that
pervades every department of the organization. Training should be a part of that
strategy along with other innovative

LYNN SHORE is a professor of management and co-director of the Institute for Inclusiveness and Diversity in Organizations at San
Diego State University. Reach her at (619) 594-4309 or [email protected].