Diversity In The Work Place:  Does It Help or Hurt Business?  

There’s no question that diversity in the workplace is a noble goal.  There is a lot to be said in favor of it.  Yet, some people are skeptical of diversity and its potential value.  There are some thoughts and arguments for and against the concept of diversity.

Skill Clustering

Certain skill sets are sometimes highly concentrated in a small geographic area.  If you want German engineering excellence, hire German engineers.  For mega-talented Silicon Valley computer geeks, hire in Silicon Valley.  This can tend to create naturally homogenous groups and, the argument goes, there is some inherent value in that.

Unity

Generally, a homogenous group is a more unified group.  For some leaders, corporate unity is very important.  Particularly in times of crisis, a sense of unity can actually be more important than the potential of a larger bottom line.  Why?  Because of the sense of stability and continuity that unity creates within the corporate hierarchy.

Difficulty

Managing a diverse team with wildly varying backgrounds and vastly different cultural norms can be daunting.  Some argue “too daunting.”  They believe that the benefits of diversity outweigh the costs associated with maintaining it and trying to keep everyone happy.

Another subset of this basic argument is that even to this day, there is still significant resistance to the idea of diversity.  The dominant social group feels threatened by sudden diversity.  They see their monopoly on power begin to erode.  This objection has nothing to do with the business of business. But, it can certainly affect your corporation, and make creating a more diverse working environment quite challenging.

True. Diversity isn’t a panacea, and it shouldn’t be considered as an “end” in its own right, but rather, a means to an end.  Yes, diversity creates its own headaches and unique challenges.  But at the end of the day, there’s only one prominent reason to consider making your workplace more diverse:  to helps your bottom line.

Effectiveness

The best reason to advocate for diversity is that by any measure, a diverse group is more effective than a homogenous group.  Homogenous groups tend to be blinded by their own assumptions, to consider a narrower range of factors and evidence when making decisions, and generally perform more poorly than diverse groups.

One reason diverse groups can perform better is that there is less tension than in diverse organization.  Of course, too much tension can be a negative factor.  But, well-managed creative tension fosters conditions that give rise to real breakthroughs and discoveries.

President Abraham Lincoln appointed several of his political opponents to important positions in his Cabinet.  Not because he wanted “yes men.” He wanted a group that represented a broader range of views and people not afraid to challenge him or the accepted norms of the day.  Few can event try to argue against the success of Lincoln’s approach.

Many think that when a group is diverse, the new and innovative thinking comes from the most diverse members.   Research shows that this is rarely true. The minority members of the group usually align or agree with the line of thinking put forward by some member of the dominant subgroup within the group.  This, however, tends to act as a subconscious catalyst.  There’s a curiosity arising from wondering why the minority opinion agrees. And this actually prompts the group as a whole to take a deeper look at the issue being discussed. This, in turn leads to those breakthroughs and startling insights.

Think what that means for your company as a whole.  A diverse group is a group that has more built-in tension.  It can be a tricky thing to manage.  The management team has to choose their own performance.  As the group functions, the added tension fosters a sense of creative energy which leads to innovative advances and highly efficient and effective problem-solving.  These developments in turn, feed the day-to-day operation, improving the company’s performance and fattening its bottom line.

Objections

Look at the primary objections to diversity.  The arguments made are actually quite weak. Concentrating skills may matter at a micro level, and in certain very specific and narrow cases.  But this does not have to be the defining feature of the whole company. Unity can be as much of a curse as a blessing.  Especially if that unity leads to narrow thinking that runs counter to the best long term interests of the firm.  Resistance to change or perceived difficulty are not valid reasons not to change.

All in all, the evidence is clear.  Despite any added difficulty, diversity is a net positive for your business.

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen R. Covey, Author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.