January 22, 2013

The Business Case for Diversity - Strike a New Match

Some business leaders never see the business case for diversity in action.  That is a shame, primarily because those leaders may never achieve their full potential.  I believe that a business leader must understand the business case for diversity as it applies to his/her own unique business situation.   It is something that you can’t get from a magazine or a case study; it comes from true introspection, and analysis of facts and beliefs that may take you through some uncomfortable places.  I know this because I have done that work, and because I revisit it from time to time.

While the specifics of the business case must be personal, there can be some common themes.  One common theme has to do with diversity of thought.  Have you ever been in a meeting in which everyone seems to see issues the same way the boss sees them?  No different insights, or what-if questions; just congratulations and heads nodding in agreement?  If you were the boss in that meeting, be careful!  You may be allowing an environment that doesn’t require diversity of thought.  In doing so, you may be capping your own growth. 

Diversity of thought has been used as an excuse for not having a visibly divdiversity of thoughterse workforce (race, gender, age, etc.).  I have found it to be at the core of why diversity makes business sense.  By having a variety of looks at an issue or opportunity, I can make better decisions based on a more comprehensive viewpoint.  The best leaders aggressively eliminate any and all factors that don’t help them to get to the truth.  That may mean surrounding oneself with capable people who have diverse perspectives and a shared commitment to the success of the business.  At least some of those people may be better than you in some areas.  If so, congratulations; you have increased your potential exponentially, and reduced the likelihood of missing something you need to know.

Too often, business leaders mistake diverse perspectives for diverse values and/or divergent objectives.  Making decisions using diverse perspectives involves more work than filling a boardroom with “yes-men” (or women!).  It is hard work to sort through ideas that challenge yours, letting the best idea win.  Regardless, it is what the best leaders do.  Why does it matter who came up with the idea when the whole team stands to win? 

Require diversity of thought at your workplace.  Don't decide issues without comprehensive insights from a diverse group of trusted advisors.  Strike a new match, and see what happens.

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