By Lydia Zhou
With the increasing globalization of the world economy and the greater internationalization of corporations, the topic of workforce diversity has received significant attention from researchers as well as companies. Managing diversity has become increasingly popular as a managerial philosophy and has been employed by a variety of organizations. Many organizations promote diversity, considering the potential added value and competitive advantages it can bring.
To start with, we can try to define diversity. For some, diversity means differences in gender, age, race and cultural backgrounds in the workplace. For others, it means a great variety of variables including educational levels, skills and prior experiences. From a broader perspective, diversity includes not only the visible qualities of gender, ethnicity and disability, but also other qualities such as language, professional skills, functional areas of expertise and prior working experience. By managing or valuing diversity, it means that the qualities of different people brought to their jobs are valued, and if the differences are properly managed, they can contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of work.
So why are so many organizations putting diversity as their top HR priority? For starters, it’s widely recognized that diversity, when managed well, can help improve problem-solving abilities, marketing strategies and the quality of personnel through better recruitment and retention.
People from diverse backgrounds may bring a broader and richer base of experiences with them, and this allows them to approach a problem from different perspectives. It also improves critical analysis, another important element in the decision-making process. As a result, diverse teams may come up with better ideas and options.
Compared with homogeneous teams, diverse work teams aren’t likely to suffer from groupthink because this phenomenon tends to occur in highly cohesive groups.
Only human and organizational resources can provide an organization with a sustained competitive advantage. Such human resources can be associated with high productivity, innovative ideas and superior job performance. It is very important for organizations to have full access to the best of all available talent regardless of background, ethnicity or other individual characteristics. Organizations that continue to rely on traditional labor pools might risk losing to their competitors if they ignore the valuable potential human resources in the remaining population. An organization that becomes known as a good place for people from diverse backgrounds to come together can use this to retain and attract an increasingly diverse team.
The market for multinational companies is also becoming culturally diverse. Organizations that fail to attract and retain employees with foreign know-how may not be able to get to a market quickly and thus will miss potential opportunities. There are several reasons why a diverse workforce can improve a company’s marketing strategy. First, companies recognized for managing diversity well may experience a boost in public image. Second, the insights of a diverse workforce may help organizations better understand customer needs and thus provide better customer service. Third, employees from different cultural backgrounds may also help create better organizational strategies for customer relations when their customers are also from diverse backgrounds.
To maximize potential opportunities, it is essential for organizations to manage diversity properly. As long as organizations can consistently put effort into it, diversity will bring more value to an organization.
Lydia Zhou is HR General Manager at ConocoPhillips. She is a Co-chair of the AmCham China Human Resources Forum.