To reach an increasingly diverse customer base, diversify your workforce.
Workforce diversity is more than just a politically correct catchphrase. From the outside, a diverse employee base not only casts your organization in a positive light, but it can lower the ethnic, cultural or language barriers of entry to markets that would otherwise be out of reach. Internally, it has been shown to improve the bottom line of organizations that commit to it--by broadening the talent pool, increasing innovation and improving cross-organizational cohesion.
Take the area of innovation. A 2003 study conducted by Northwestern University found that heterogeneous groups were more successful than homogeneous ones when asked to solve a murder mystery. Subsequent studies have shown that highlighting the differences between individuals, not downplaying them, is required to create this innovative atmosphere.
Building a diverse workforce, of course, means hiring, leading and working with people unlike yourself, and that's not always easy. Here are a few strategies to build and strengthen diversity in your organization:
Widen the Search. Instead of limiting your talent search to the usual avenues, partner with organizations that can help you cast your net wider, such as a local minority chamber of commerce or trade association, or, if you're a minority firm, a Caucasian organization. Depending on the ethnic makeup of your footprint, try posting positions in foreign-language publications. And job boards such as diversityworking.com allow you to reach a diverse pool of applicants online.
Foster Internal Communities. Employee business resource groups (EBRGs) or affinity groups are becoming increasingly common in larger organizations. These inclusive groups support employees who share heritage, gender, sexual orientation or background. They provide a forum for discussion and professional development, and they naturally foster cross-organizational communication and access to communities beyond your walls. PNC, for example, hosts EBRGs or affinity groups for women, African-American, Asian-American, Latino, LGBT and other communities.
Take the Lead. The executive suite should be as inclusive as the company cafeteria. If it isn't, create formal or informal mentoring programs to foster talent, and establish performance-based guidelines for compensation and advancement. Make sure you and your executive team serve as an example in creating an environment where employees are comfortable with differences, and where opinions and experiences are valued.
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