Change for the better Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Last November, an African-American was elected president of the United States.

This one event illustrated how far our country has come in regards to race relations. Does it mean everything is perfect? Absolutely not. There are still many things that need to be done, but it at least shows progress.

Ten years ago, if I asked you if an African-American could be elected president, what would you have said? What about five years ago? In just a short time, attitudes changed, and Americans picked who they felt was the best person for the job.

In business, that’s essentially what we are trying to do every time we hire. We want the best person for the job regardless of race, sex or ethnicity. People would be foolish to exclude potentially great candidates based on personal bias. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but those that pursue such policies will ultimately suffer in the end as their talent pool is limited to only those that closely resemble themselves.

America’s demographics are rapidly changing. Minority and ethnic groups are rapidly gaining ground in personal wealth and influence and are having a direct effect on the marketplace. How are you potentially going to market to these groups if you don’t understand their point of view? Having a diverse work force can help you be more competitive. But beyond that, having the best person in every job can help you with more than just diversity outreach.

Obviously, CEOs see the importance of diversity. In a national Smart Business survey of CEOs, 48 percent indicated that diversity was “very important” when hiring and 62 percent have an official diversity policy.

We need to make sure we have created an equal playing field for all candidates. Having a diversity policy is one way to do this, but you can also start by reviewing where you are searching for applicants. A big failing of many companies when it comes to diversity is only posting jobs in places where nonminorities look. If your job openings are only seen by a predominantly white applicant pool, then obviously you are going to get predominantly white applicants. By putting in a little extra effort, you can get a better diversity of applicants and increase the overall quality of the candidate pool at the same time.

Diversity does not mean hiring people just for the sake of being diverse. In fact, of those surveyed, 83 percent said it’s possible to go too far with diversity efforts. You do not want to create a situation where you are hiring unqualified candidates for your positions. That just creates bitterness and sets up the person hired to fail — neither of which benefits your business. An equal playing field equals an equal opportunity for all.

Attitudes about diversity are changing. There is still much to be done, but the smart business leaders are taking a proactive attitude toward creating the most talented and best-equipped work force possible.

When it comes down to it, diversity is an issue of the heart. Biblical teachings emphasize that in the eyes of God, we are all the same people. Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal.” But some people don’t believe this in their heart. Once their heart embraces this idea, their beliefs and behavior will change, and when it does, America will take another big step forward. In the meantime, why not take a step forward at your business?

Other survey highlights:

? 89 percent said they hire across a broad range of ages to relate to a broad range of clients

? 72 percent said it’s important to their customers that they have a diverse work force

? 75 percent make some sort of effort to have a diverse work force

? 58 percent spend between $1,000 and $10,000 annually on diversity efforts

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with yourcomments at (800) 988-4726 or