Inclusion Is Key Ingredient in Diversity’s Recipe

Conference attendees told to embrace differences and difficult conversations

By Aliah D. Wright May 7, 2012
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Real diversity isn’t about skin color or recognizing that people are basically the same. Rather, it’s about acknowledging that each person is unique. Inclusion lies in embracing that uniqueness to understand better why people behave the way they do.

This is the message Stephen Lowisz conveyed to those attending a concurrent session at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2012 Talent Management Conference & Exposition, held April 30-May 2 at the Gaylord National Hotel outside Washington, D.C.

“Most companies today understand the business case for a diverse workforce,” said Lowisz, CEO of the Learning Conference.

“Study after study shows that diversity positively influences company revenues and profits due to the buying power of minority groups, the explosion of creative thinking from different viewpoints and significant growth in the minority labor pool,” he said. But still, “diversity and inclusion programs fail [because] most organizations prepare for diversity of color; however they do not understand that true diversity” lies in understanding each other’s differences. “It’s time to explore the differences and understand why people act the way they do and how organizations can embrace these differences both today and in the future,” he said.

But first, HR needs to understand the difference between diversity and inclusion.

“Diversity is the mix; inclusion is making all the ingredients work,” Lowisz said, noting that diversity is the easier part but that not being able to bring about inclusion affects an organization’s ability to increase its diversity. He likened it to baking a cake. “If you put the ingredients in the wrong way, what happens? It flops.”

Diversity impacts business performance. “It makes business sense when you can relate to your customers better. A diverse workforce ensures that corporations obtain and retain the best and brightest people with the skills necessary to do the job—regardless of their appearance and their culture. It’s particularly important as time moves on, because inclusion directly influences increased revenues and profits,” he said.

For example, consider what happened when American Motors Corp. introduced a car called the Matador to Puerto Rico, not realizing that “matador” in Spanish means “killer.” No one wanted to drive a killer car, Lowisz said.

“A diverse workforce can improve problem solving. Diversity doesn’t work when it focuses on just differences and color—it works when we focus on our different opinions.”

HR professionals must keep in mind, too, that “the labor pool is becoming more diverse. The demographics are changing.” Hispanics, people with disabilities, people of mixed races and people of different ages are entering the workforce in growing numbers.

“Minorities are the fastest growing part of the labor force,” he said.

The Hispanic labor force is projected to grow by 34 percent by 2014; Asians by 32 percent; African-Americans by 17 percent; whites by just 7 percent.

“By 2014, white men will only be 43 percent of the labor force, with women and minorities making up 57 percent.”

He added that North America and Europe are expected to produce only 3 percent of the world’s new labor force over the next 10 years. “Asia is expected to produce more than 75 percent of the world’s new labor force over the next 10 years.”

Forget Tolerance

Lowisz urged HR professionals to embrace the uncomfortable conversations that might result from learning to “deal with differences.”

“People shouldn’t be tolerating each other,” he said. “You need to start accepting people,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to talk about what may or may not be offensive. You need to start learning about each other. You need to start communicating.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Twitter with her @1SHRMScribe.

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