As we embark on a new decade, A number of factors have reshaped the business landscape. Globalization, technology, diverse cultures, and the most recent recession are all forcing leaders to review previous organizational practices and adjust their attitudes and abilities to be competitive in today’s marketplace. But it seems leaders are still not getting the message that diversity is essential to that success. The leadership practices needed to keep pace with new demands and challenges was the focus of a two-year, global, multilevel report called Developing the 21st Century Leader, conducted by AchieveGlobal, a consulting organization that assists domestic and international companies with training in leadership, sales, and customer service.
After reviewing approximately 40 practices that range from behavioral to cognitive, AchieveGlobal researchers condensed those disciplines into six “zones” or categories of best practices and reveal how leaders rate them in terms of importance. Of the six zones, diversity ranked last. The report’s methodology consists of a literature review, focus groups, and an online survey completed by 971 business and government leaders and employees in the United States, Mexico, India, China, Singapore, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Although the study does not discuss the reason for the low ranking of diversity, Craig Perrin, director of solution development for AchieveGlobal, suggests that the idea of diversity varies for different cultures, so some may not see it as crucial. There is still trouble with understanding the definition of diversity, he explains; there is still the belief that diversity is only about acknowledging differences instead of fully leveraging those differences. Perrin also says that because ethnocentrism is still evident, some leaders find it difficult to manage a diverse range of perspectives. “The main point I’m making is diversity, while important, is less important in a poor economy.”
Experts argue, however, that in a down economy, diversity should remain a business priority.
Janet Reid, Ph.D., founding and managing partner of Global Lead L.L.C., suggests that people may rate diversity lower because they lack the ability to become more culturally aware with a business metric, a methodology Reid devised that measures the ability to be successful in any region of the world by incorporating three components: a business IQ, emotional IQ, and cultural IQ. Diversity, says Reid, “is a business advantage that is still underutilized, but the economy is forcing a shift in looking at external diversity, or diversity that is customer based.” They have not, however, focused on how to leverage the diverse talent within their organization as a competitive strategy. Besides customer acquisition, diversity can be utilized for increasing market share and beating out competitors, adds Reid.
Even with continual analysis and commentary about the necessity of diversity for an organization’s success, there is still fear within organizations about opening up the diversity conversation. Reid attributes part of this fear to the fact that baby boomers are currently leading organizations and some of them still associate diversity with affirmative action and discrimination lawsuits. But this mindset is likely to change as that generation retires or moves on. “People beneath baby boomers grew up differently; their social structure was a lot more diverse so they generally see diversity and inclusion as how things should be anyway,” she says.
As a leader, it is crucial to communicate how leveraging diversity is a skill and a strategy that needs to be utilized for the success of an organization. Educate your employee base about what the skill is and how to acquire it and practice it. While internal —that is, employee base—diversity is a necessity, a leader should also promote external diversity by clearly showing that it can increase the customer base and bottom line. Reid says, “Employees need to market and conduct business with people who are very different from themselves. These skills can be taught and measured internally or by utilizing consulting firms that have market development capabilities.”