The business landscape will look dramatically different in coming decades. By embracing people’s differences, we can spark innovation, better understand and serve our customers and gain competitive advantage.
Driving a successful diversity strategy begins with the senior leaders, but to be fully sustainable it needs to be lived by every one of us. If that seems challenging, think about this: many leading researchers and social scientists have proven a link between diversity and productivity. In the United States, management researchers found that when people work directly with someone with at least one diverse trait, it challenges them to prepare more and work harder.
By embracing diversity in your business today, you can adopt an intrapreneurial mindset and sustainable skills that will help you succeed. Here’s how you can start:
1. Learn to think like an intrapreneur.
Intrapreneurship, or disrupting internal processes or cultural norms, is at its heart about innovation. One group of innovators in particular figured out how to advance their industry through the way they approach challenges – these are open-source software engineers, and they use design thinking. It’s a good example of what intrepreneurship can be: pick a diverse team with a range of experiences and perspectives; make your mistakes early and be open about them. Without the diverse and constant input, these engineers would be less successful in the way they solve challenges. When faced with a difficult task or situation, seek out advice from new and diverse sources, most likely you will find an improved approach.
2. Discover new places to network.
As collaboration with diverse individuals provides new points of view, networking accomplishes this on a larger scale. By going to events for closely related professions, or simply connecting through social media channels such as Twitter or LinkedIn where you can virtually engage in conversations with anyone, you put yourself in a position for growth. Inside your organization you can join or organize a powerful employee network with a diverse set of peers. While interacting with your network, look for, accept and appreciate differences. Friction leads to heat, and our heat makes the atoms move faster!
3. Focus on the strengths everybody brings to the table.
We are brought up in the Western World to focus on what doesn’t work or what is different. Challenge yourself to appreciate the differences of others and see them as potential drivers of change. The more opinions, the more variety, and the more diversity we bring to the table the more we can unchain our creativity, which is hidden in every one of us.
People with different communication abilities, for instance, can be diverse. Autistic people are known for thriving in repetitive tasks, which is an especially valuable skill set in today’s data-driven work environments. These skills help uncover insights into customer behavior and business trends, and can lead to discoveries that alter how a company operates. In the future of work, diversity will not be an option, but an imperative to sustain in our global, fast paced economy, where never just one person owns and knows the truth.
4. Stand up to discrimination.
Stand up if you see or experience discrimination. Raise your voice for the unheard opinion. Help others appreciate how every person has a different strength and realize that in that strength there is opportunity to grow and be more productive. For instance, if a colleague comments that a women aren’t as capable of understanding technology, remind them that CEOs Meg Whitman at HP and Marisa Mayer at Yahoo! have both outlasted their male predecessors. By being critical of someone’s weakness you miss the chance to appreciate and benefit from their strengths.
The need for new perspectives becomes especially important when we examine the future workplace. As our world gets smaller, diversity doesn’t only mean differences in gender and race, but age and geography as well. Our world has become ultra-connected – successful companies find that to harmonize these connections relates directly to how fast they innovate. The implications are key for our global workforce because innovation thrives when we are faced with the unfamiliar. Diversity is what makes business more sustainable.