Research has consistently shown that diverse teams produce better results, provided they are well led. The ability to bring together people from different backgrounds, disciplines, cultures, and generations and leverage all they have to offer, therefore, is a must-have for leaders (Ibarra and Hansen 2011: 71).
The authors argue that the ability to create a diverse team is a priority for leaders to develop.
Managing a diverse team an important skill
Workplace diversity is claimed to be one of the most important challenges facing managers today. Demographic trends, changing labor supply patterns, immigration, and increased globalization imply a much more heterogeneous group of employees for firms to manage. A number of firms and business executives have proposed a “business case for diversity,” which argues that a more diverse workforce is not necessarily a moral imperative, but is in fact a source of competitive advantage for two reasons. First, a more diverse customer base may be better served by a more diverse workforce that can effectively communicate with customer subgroups. Second, some assert that “diverse teams produce better results”1 Arguing that heterogeneous team members will provide a broader range of ideas and potential solutions to a given problem. Unfortunately, few formal arguments and empirical research on productivity have explored the business case for diversity.
Many companies recognize that diversity is an essential component of doing business, but diversity is more than just a representation in numbers. Research suggests that diverse work groups fosters innovation, so how do companies set up cultures that enable employees to feel valued and have their opinions heard? Here, a few experts weigh in on how diversity within a company can be used as a strategic advantage that creates better innovation, better products, and ultimately, a better company.
In the 1980’s, IBM had an ad that said that said “Great minds think alike,” says Annis. Eventually, IBM changed the ad to read: “Great minds think unalike.” The point is clear enough: a diversity of knowledge, talents, and experience helps companies grow.
On the other side of the coin, however, there will be employees whose opinions and approaches might not be the best for the company. While inviting a diverse array of opinions is crucial for success, it’s just as important to watch out for people whose opinions work counter to the progress of a company’s growth. Pravin Pillay, an organizational ecologist based in British Columbia says, that it’s necessary to “continuously weed and seed” the right—and wrong—employees from the company.
The knowledge of diversity to produce better results
Researchers have suggested that diversity has enhanced performance by broadening the group’s perspectives. There is a strong empirical confirmation that successful diversity management and a resulting improvement in organizational performance are positively correlated (Ozbilgin and Tatli, 2008).
Barbara Annis, who chairs the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says that using diversity as a competitive advantage starts with an understanding that a diverse way of thinking improves results. According to Annis, managers tend to value employees that think like them. But being a “team player” doesn’t mean that your employee must agree with you.
By setting up an organization that recognizes—and embraces—employee diversity, it creates opportunities for people to interact in meaningful ways within the organization. That diversity can be leveraged, too. For example, large companies like Coke have historically set up affinity groups, which are cross-organizational teams set up with members from a similar demographic or social background. Setting up these groups may benefit your organization for a variety of reasons, experts say.
First, such groups can teach new employees about the organizational culture, and educate them how to be successful within the company. Second, the group gives existing employees a way to develop relationships and connect with people across company groups. Perhaps most importantly, these groups can be used as resources for your company’s marketing needs. By setting up mini-focus groups of an intended demographic, these affinity groups can gauge the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. “You’re always able to use their knowledge to help you design the marketing campaign,” says Lieberman.
Having a diverse workforce with a strong culture of individualism has profound effects on internal employee relations, but it can also assist in obtaining new clients. “Diversity gives you greater access because you’re actually a building an environment where your potential customers recognize a different element within your organization and you’re able to help them execute better,” says Stephan Reeves, CEO of Montage Companies, a diversity consulting company based in Philadelphia.
I would hereby like to conclude that diversity management ensures that all employees have the opportunity to maximize their potential and enhance their self-development and their contribution to the organization. It recognizes that people from different backgrounds can bring fresh ideas and perceptions, which can make the way work is done more efficient and make products and services better. Managing diversity successfully will help organizations to nurture creativity and innovation and thereby to tap hidden capacity for growth and improved competitiveness.
List of References:
Markowitz. E (2011) How to Foster Innovation Through Diverse Workgroups [online] available from http://www.inc.com/guides/2011/01/how-to-foster-innovation-through-diverse-workgroups.html [20/February/2014]
Patrick H. A, Kumar V. R, (25 April 2012) Managing Workplace Diversity Issues and Challenges DOI: 10.1177/2158244012444615 Published [online] available from http://sgo.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/04/19/2158244012444615%5B20/February/2014%5D
Barton H. H, Jack A. N, Hideo. O (May 2004) Diversity and Productivity in Production Teams [online] available from http://apps.olin.wustl.edu/faculty/hamiltonb/wpapers/Diversity%20and%20Productivity%20in%20Production%20Teams.pdf
Image courtesy Fauzia Jamal British Fashion Council Seminar