Diversity is strength. Financial experts know that a diversified portfolio is the best way to build wealth, and business experts know that a diverse candidate pool is the best way to build a staff that will provide the maximum performance and results.
“Study after study shows diversity creates a positive impact on businesses,” says Tracey de Morsella, who produces the Multicultural Advantage, a Web site with resources to help employers increase their effectiveness in diversity recruiting. Miami-based Convergence Media Inc., runs the site and publishes multicultural-focused directories.
“Studies show diverse companies increase productivity, creativity and develop new and more varied products and services,” de Morsella says. “Most new business owners think, ‘I’ll deal with that later.’ Diversity seems out of reach, but there are benefits to doing it right away.”
Just don’t confuse diversity with representation, says Roosevelt Thomas, CEO of Roosevelt Thomas Consulting & Training in Atlanta, Ga., and author of Building on the Promise of Diversity (AMACOM Books, 2005, $27.95).
Plan to Manage Diversity
“Most companies who think they’re talking about diversity are really talking about representation,” Thomas says. He defines “representation” as a workforce that racially and ethnically reflects a company’s customer base.
“The main benefit to a representative workforce is that society expects it,” he says. “Truth be told, it’s difficult to get ‘diversity’ through representation because most employers want to assimilate their candidates to their way of thinking and doing things. Those companies may have a ‘diverse’ workforce, but they also have a sameness of thought.”
For example, Thomas says, if you hire African American, Hispanic and Asian candidates who all have Ivy League educations, you’re not getting diversity at all. Attribute and behavioral diversity don’t always come along with diverse ethnicities, he says. Functional diversity takes time to develop and it comes with its own set of challenges.
“True diversity breeds difficulties, tensions and complexities,” Thomas says, “and that can be difficult to manage.” Companies need to plan for training, building skills, policies and processes to effectively manage diversity.
Even so, Thomas says, companies are more likely to reach truly functional diversity with a representative workforce. “They should take on the challenge right away.”
Managed well, diversity helps companies avoid that innovation-killer called groupthink, which locks employees into one way of thinking and stifles the ability to compete. Study after study has shown that diversity improves customer focus, spurs creativity and innovation, and leads to better decision-making and problem solving, de Morsella says.
Your Workforce Should Look Like Your Customer Base
The population of America is changing. According to the 2004 U.S. Census, Hispanics (14.1 percent) now are the largest minority group, with African Americans (12.8 percent) second. Experts predict that by 2050, people of color will outnumber white Americans.
Women, 51 percent of the marketplace, are also changing the American landscape. Research findings by BusinessWeek and Gallup led to a forecast that by 2010, women are expected to control $1 trillion, or 60 percent of the country’s wealth. They already buy or influence the purchase of 80 percent of all consumer goods.
These are the faces of the marketplace, and if they’re not seen in your company, they’re likely to take their business elsewhere, de Morsella warns.
Make Your Business Attractive to Diverse Candidates
Diversity candidates are like any others - they want to find an employer with whom they’ll feel comfortable, have opportunities to advance and make a decent income. But, de Morsella notes, “If you have 20 people on staff and they’re all white guys, you send a weird message.”
So how do you get a diverse staff? “You don’t go out looking for a black man or a Latino woman,” she says. There are potential legal minefields associated with diversity hiring, such as reserving spots or job openings solely for diverse candidates. It’s reverse discrimination and illegal.
“The biggest mistake that companies [startups or established] make is being afraid - afraid of being called racist, being accused of setting quotas, etc.,” says Damali Ayo, a Portland writer and artist whose book, How to Rent a Negro (Lawrence Hill Books, 2005, $14.95) is intended to encourage open dialogue about race in the workplace. “People are so afraid of ‘doing it wrong’ when it comes to diversity that procrastination and cowardice easily find their way in. Thus some companies who are strong in many areas find themselves weak in diversity.”
As you create your recruiting materials, build in a diversity message that says, “This is a great place to work,” Ayo says. “You just need to broaden your talent pool, and you’ll have no problem finding people from varied backgrounds.”
Does Your Web Site Reflect Diversity?
One easy way to attract a broad talent pool is by adding a diversity page to your Web site, de Morsella says: “This is a very low-cost method and will help your site show up on search engines for diversity.
“If you’re not sure how to do it, go to the sites of major companies with a reputation for good diversity programs – Microsoft and Merrill Lynch, for example - and use them as a model.”
De Morsella also urges including minorities and women on your board. “This puts a diverse face on your company and makes those from diverse backgrounds want to work with you,” she says.
Widen Your Candidate Pool
One of the simplest ways to recruit for diversity is posting your company on minority-focused Web sites that offer various combinations of job listings, recruitment-marketing services and diversity-related news (see related sidebar).
De Morsella suggests that when looking for highly skilled talent and executives, tap into the local chapters of national groups. “It’s much less expensive,” she says. “Working through the national organization could cost up to $20K.”
For entry- to mid-level, she advises looking to such advocacy groups as the Urban League. “I’ve done this to hire sales staff and interns, and it’s worked out great,” she says. “Most large cities have a local chapter and will be happy to send candidates right away.”
It Won’t Pay If You Delay
Begin your efforts to hire a representative staff as soon as possible because diversity can make a huge difference in the bottom line.
Robert Rodriguez is faculty chair in the School of Business & Technology at Capella University online, and chairman for the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement, a nonprofit that helps companies attract, develop and retain Latino talent. On the Society for Human Resource Management Web site, he recounts how a representative and diverse workforce led to big profits for Frito-Lay.
The Latino Employee Network at Frito-Lay proved invaluable during the development of Doritos Guacamole Flavored Tortilla Chips, Rodriguez writes. Members of the network provided feedback on the taste and packaging to help ensure authenticity, helping launch one of the most successful products in the company’s history. The snack generated more than $100 million in sales in the first year alone.
“A diverse staff is going to give you the best performance and results,” Ayo says. “A diverse staff is only one of the tools you need to build the best business possible. You should treat it with the same immediacy and importance as you would in finding the right tools in every other area.
“Become a leader in creating a diverse staff. Your clients’ confidence, staff morale, press coverage, productivity and, of course, your profits will increase for doing it.”
Jackie Headapohl is a freelance writer for StartupNation.