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Opinion: Corporate diversity boiled down to 4 points

A Wider Lens

Posted online

The diversity train is leaving the depot. Are you on board?

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, by 2044 more than half of all Americans will belong to a minority group. By the year 2060, the percentage will increase to 56.4 percent.

To put these projections in perspective, minority populations in 2014 were 38 percent of the American population.

Those projections alone make you stop and take notice. But typically race – along with gender – is where most conversations begin and end when discussing workplace diversity. Both are valid and necessary considerations, but it is time to look beyond the surface. 

SbjLive owner Jennifer Jackson, sbjLive producer Mike Coonrod and I were invited to interview the presenters at the Washington University Diversity and Inclusion Summit on Feb. 16. The speakers represented companies ranging from Edward Jones to Facebook. In other words, from established, large companies to young, large companies.

Our objective was to get useful, actionable ideas for you to make better decisions for your company, employees and yourself. I was skeptical as to how applicable these behemoth companies’ initiatives would be to our predominately small-business landscape.

My skepticism was quickly alleviated.

There are four things that rang true throughout all of the interviews we conducted with executives from Express Scripts Holding Co. (Nasdaq: ESRX), Edward D. Jones & Co. LP, Uber Technologies Inc. and Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB). Spoiler alert: Not one of them said, “Because it’s the morally right thing to do.”

1. We are all diverse.

It is easy and natural to categorize people by race or gender. These are observable differences, but there are many characteristics that make us who we are: politics, religion, sexual orientation, educational background, childhood experiences, socio-economic status and others. No two of us are alike, even if we sometimes think we are.

2. Diversity is not the end goal.

The goal is to create an environment in which all employees are valued and respected every day. Whether that diversity is observable or not, it brings complementary perspectives to the table. As Emily Pitts, principal of inclusion and diversity for Edward Jones, thinks of it: “Diversity of thought breeds innovation. Innovation breeds better results.”

3. Your product depends on it.

Tech-first company Uber has expanded into new markets by intentionally building a diverse mix of team members. Kirsten Miller, Uber’s compliance manager, says later this year Uber is launching a wheelchair-accessible vehicle product.

“We, as Uber, have revolutionized mobility, and we want to make sure we can bring that to as many people as possible,” she says. “Yes, selfishly we make more money when we get to launch new products.”

This nugget is more difficult for a company of 12 versus 12,000. But the point is still well taken. You can only know what you know, and if everybody on your team shares your perspective, your business will be limited.

4. The bottom line is the bottom line.

A team with diversity of thought will be more innovative and drive higher revenues and profitability. In a short 26 years from now, no single race or ethnicity will be in the majority in the United States. Observable differences are becoming the norm rather than the anomaly. So as Express Scripts’ Diversity and Inclusion Vice President Susan Stith says, “If you don’t get on this [diversity] train, it’s going to keep running. You just won’t have anybody on board.”

SbjLive CEO Mar’Ellen Felin can be reached at mfelin@sbj.net. SbjLive is a video media outlet and spin-off of Springfield Business Journal.

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