Diversity in the workplace is not a trend. I consider it to be the only way forward.
When diversity is brought into the workplace, your company benefits. Diversity allows for fresh ideas, which drives innovation and prevents companies from the downfall of groupthink. As Miles’s Law explains, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” The last thing a company wants is a team of tunnel-visioned members. It is with the input of different perspectives that debates are initiated and stagnation prevented.
I am fortunate that my company physically spans multiple continents, as this makes sourcing diversified talent a more straight-forward task. However, I have discovered that there is more to diversity than geography, and there are other ways to increase diversity within the workplace:
Start with experience.
When I first started building my executive team, I only looked for talent with very similar profiles: from larger and “better run” companies, with degrees from world-renowned universities and with many years of experience. But as we strived toward these ideals and tried to emulate those “better-run” companies, we became disconnected from the rest of our workforce and eventually from our customers as well.
Our lack of diversity was hurting us. So, I first began tackling the issue of diversity in regards to experiences. There are talented individuals who can fit into your company’s culture regardless of the nature or extent of their prior experience. Aim to bring on team members from different generations. This diversity in experience can give you the benefit of insight and different know-hows on handling an array of challenges.
I saw this on my team firsthand during the pandemic. Those who worked through the 2003 SARS outbreak have been invaluable over the past year in helping ensure employee safety and supply chain integrity. Meanwhile, other members with less work experience have been indispensable in driving the team forward by bringing in the latest trends and keeping our fingers on the ever-changing social and technological pulse.
Make gender equality a priority.
“Because it’s 2015.”
While nearly six years have passed since Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau spoke about the importance of gender parity, and some progress has been made in the political and corporate world since then, I believe that we have not advanced nearly enough in promoting gender diversity. I find this to be especially true when you consider the much-reported regressive effects of Covid-19 on gender equality.
As such, it’s important to make a pronounced effort to provide equal opportunities to the men and women of your team, and ensure women are equally represented throughout your organization. This diversity can encourage new ways of looking at a problem and even more innovative means of tackling it.
To achieve gender diversity, there needs to be a concerted effort by the company — one that is transparent and broadcasted. Target ratios can be set for each level of your organization. It is important to acknowledge, however, that there is a marked difference between ensuring gender equality and meeting gender ratios. The key lies in providing equal opportunities, broadcasting your policy and making it a reality.
Embrace diverse cultural backgrounds.
My company has sites in four countries across three continents, and it is composed of individuals from various nationalities. When working with such a diverse team, it is important to understand cultural differences, for they can be a trigger for conflict when ignored and an opportunity for innovation when harnessed. I definitely prefer the latter.
Take my company, for example: We are headquartered in Hong Kong, and we have team members who identify as Chinese, American, British and Canadian. By appreciating various leadership styles and business etiquette, as well as understanding that national identities can affect perception, we have been able to adjust the way we conduct business with our customers and suppliers and build a strong rapport with our local teams.
I’ve found acknowledging cultural differences can also help promote understanding within the team and, more importantly, remind us all in times of disagreement that one should focus on the issues at hand (and not the differences in perspective or approach of others).
Nonetheless, disagreements are bound to arise. What’s essential, I believe, is to harness it. In the book Crucial Conversations, I learned that dialogue can be kept professional and productive even when there are conflicting opinions. I like to believe that disagreement within a team simply reflects a shared ambition: to do what is best for the company. Maintain this shared objective among your own employees to help keep debates focused and professional and the decision-making processes streamlined.
It is my firm belief that diversity — in terms of experience, gender, cultural background and more — should be actively incorporated in the workplace. When contrasting perspectives and ideas can be channeled into productive discussions with a common objective in mind, diversity could very well be the edge that your company needs to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment.
By Carl Hung,
CEO & President of Season Group
Originally published on Forbes on 9 Mar 2021 (Why Diversity Is Your Key To Success In A Competitive Economy (forbes.com))