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Workforce Diversity:

Five strategies for drawing on diversity to increase market potential

January, 2012

Diversity in the workplace is vital for the creation of a robust and vibrant enterprise. According to Stephen Butler, co-chairman of the Business-Higher Education Forum's Diversity Initiative Task Force, "Diversity is an invaluable competitive asset that America cannot afford to ignore." Several strategies can be employed to leverage workplace diversity to take advantage of market potential.

A New worldview

One component of the first strategy is to be clear about the difference between old models of diversity and a new worldview that includes diverse thinking. According to Dr. Steve Robbins, recent speaker at the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, the old view of diversity is one associated with social justice issues, such as civil rights and quotas. Workshops in this model emphasize understanding gender and racial differences and tend to be critical of the dominant culture.

This model has changed. Recently, valuing diversity has come to mean creating an environment that invites connection, inclusion, power, and attraction. This new model of diversity has, at its core, the ability to let in and be open; to touch others and be touched by others. This openness in turn leads to the innovation and inclusion that helps businesses become stronger. So, the first strategy is to let go of the old model of diversity and to embrace a diverse workforce as an asset for more robust thinking, problem solving, and decision-making.

Unlocking Culture Codes

A second strategy is leveraging diversity to find new customers. At a recent Michigan Chamber of Commerce meeting, a panel on global competitiveness and exporting described a world full of expectancy and potential in international markets. Representatives from different cultures stressed the desires inherent in their markets. Reaching those markets depends on the ability to connect, at the core level, with different cultures. Creating new relationships depends upon the understanding that arises from an open and inclusive environment created by valuing diverse thinking.

A third strategy that leverages diversity to grow a market share goes beyond openness to a deeper understanding about customers. Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, author of The Culture Code, talks about the way to understand why people around the world live and buy as they do. He helps companies increase profitability by unlocking the culture codes of international markets. Marketing to other cultures, at its basic level, involves deep listening and core connections, deep contextual engagement, and using the language that is most understood to get a message across. This can only be accomplished if a company is open to diversity, innovation and inclusion.

Valuing Diversity

The fourth strategy is to use a diverse workforce as a form of business intelligence. Ideas generated by a diverse group are simply more accurate. Len Fisher, the author of A Perfect Swarm, explains why when he discusses statistical methods and averaging group data. When one wants to estimate something, the average answers of a group is more likely to be accurate than the guesses of one or two strong individuals. In addition, the more diverse the workforce, the more likely opinions will reflect a diverse market.

A fifth strategy is to employ technology to connect with diverse stakeholders. Technology has afforded new methods for diverse groups to express their opinions. An example from medical research groups, according to Wikinomics, took place when one stymied company decided to open up its research results, at no cost, to anyone on the web, including competitors and amateurs. The result was an exponential increase in the number of solutions and products brought to market. Technology has allowed companies to touch and be touched by others in new and diverse ways.

Creativity and Responsiveness in Business

Divergent thinking helps a business navigate new challenges and new markets. Valuing a diverse workforce then, is no longer about counting or quotas. It is about creativity, vibrancy, vitality, and responsiveness. It is about unleashing, unlocking, and being open to other ideas, both within and outside of an organization. It is about being able to solve a problem, understand a customer, and make sound decisions.

by Dr. Jean Morciglio, Dean of Extended Learning and Professional Studies, Lansing Community College

Several members of the Lansing Community College Diversity Committee contributed their ideas to this article, including: Terrence King, Training Specialist, Kristin Angel, Business Development Manager -- both with the Business & Community Institute; Elva Revilla, Associate Vice President of External Affairs and Development, also contributed.

For information about workshops and training related to a diverse workplace, visit lcc.edu/yourbusiness.

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