Genetics science has taught us that diversity is a key factor that enables life to thrive. This same principle applies to the business world as well. Companies that embrace diversity tend to produce more astounding results than those that don’t. Companies that have a lack of diversity suffer from monolithic thinking, which can lead to their downfall. As a leader within your organization, it’s up to you to make sure that diversity works well, as this will provide you with the largest talent pool to hire from and the most rapid integration of ideas.
Resistance to Diversity
It’s worth noting that the opposing elements of comfort and stress play a significant role in the resistance to diversity. We humans love familiarity. Things we know and understand are comforting, easy to contend with, and lack material stress. This explains why modern Silicon Valley has had a diversity problem. Technical degree earners have remained largely white and male, and the established executives are as well. They find no stress in hiring people like themselves, and as a result, they have become resistant to diversity.
These managers and executives may lack any overt prejudice, but when hiring, they “go with what they know.” Adding diversity to a workplace increases the workload and stress for some leaders. They have more to contend with, less understanding of the subtle cultural elements, and different team interpersonal frictions. It is understandable, though not acceptable, that these managers take the easy way out and hire people for which they are familiar and for which they have a trust bin performance within a team.
However, diversity is like manure; the added stress stinks, but it helps you grow. Part of diversity expansion in any organization depends on managers understanding that long-term diversity is healthy for the organization and rewarding for managers and their teams.
Diversity Requires Work
Diversity is a tough thing. It requires real effort. It requires executive and organization-wide commitment. It requires personal and corporate discipline to get it done well. A diverse organization left alone will not likely succeed.
Successful corporate diversity requires active participation, both in weeding out those elements that block functional diversity but also that accelerate its effective adoption. The following are some of the tactical processes that deal with prejudice in the workplace and ensure a diverse and productive organization.
How Prejudice Blocks Functional Diversity
While I was the CEO of Micrel, my staff had a meeting with Human Resources to discuss which universities we should recruit from. One of the proposed universities happened to be the one I graduated from. A vice president, who was unaware of this fact, said “no good students come from that school.”
He felt pretty awful when the VP of HR informed him that it was my alma mater. He had a tough time looking me in the eye. I was not in the least offended by his comment. I put my arm around him and told him I appreciated his feelings. By choosing not to be offended, I was able to maintain a good relationship with him.
One of the best ways to overcome prejudice – and thus enhance diversity – is to never be offended by comments and to encourage not being offended as part of the corporate culture. Remember, everyone has a right to their own opinion. Only unwarranted opinions lack value. The key then to a diverse company is this lack of prejudice because diversity becomes adversity when prejudice abounds. Contrary-wise, diversity without prejudice is wonderful.
Helpful Diversity Tactics
When establishing your corporate culture, your policy and procedures, or even just chatting with employees, the following tactics can deal with prejudice in the workplace and ensure a diverse and productive organization.
1. Look for all the varietals: Prejudice comes in varieties – politics, religion, race, education, social status, and many other personal biases. Encouraging thoughtful reception of everyone’s opinion goes a long way to quieting any type of prejudice.
2. Know that prejudice is universal: Statistics show that everyone harbors some form of prejudice (though most people won’t admit they have any). Acknowledging that this is a common human trait allows you to think in terms of combatting all forms of prejudice, not a small subset. With this holistic viewpoint of humanity, you can address the disease, not a set of symptoms.
3. Be the example: Never say anything unkind about anyone. If something you say or do is not edifying and uplifting, it likely is evil. In the workplace, where competing ideas are shared and debated, negativity is anti-diversity – it is a form of in-your-face denial. But positive attitudes cannot be universal within a company if its leadership is negative.
4. No swearing: Swearing builds barriers. Not everyone is immune to harsh language, and much of it comes from places of anger. Had a zero-tolerance policy for vulgar or condescending language at Micrel for 37 years and it worked, as evidenced by us having the lowest employee turnover rate in our industry (and 36 profitable years).
5. Reward kindness: Promote kindness and understanding by rewarding employees who demonstrate these traits. People do what you watch and what you reward. If you want a positive and supportive organizational culture, and one that embraces diversity as a norm, make sure the underlying mechanics of diversity are recognized.
6. Hire broadly: You need to hire great talent, but often you have multiple candidates from very different backgrounds. You can foster diversity by hiring employees that don’t fit any one mold.
7. Respect: Having respect and dignity for every individual was another Micrel cultural pillar. When you look upon most prejudices, they come from a position of lacking respect. This in turn projects upon the recipient and reduces their dignity. By making respect a core value, your organization simultaneously increases the effectiveness of diversity while reducing the isolation caused by diminished dignity.
8. Honesty: Nobody can work effectively when trust is lacking. Trust begins with honesty. Integrity – doing what is right even when nobody is looking – is the highest form of trust.
9. Encourage involvement: Acceptance can be tacit or involved. Putting yourself into the other person’s world, no matter how slightly, communicates open acceptance and thus trust. In order to help foster acceptance of different cultures and nationalities at Micrel, I made it a practice to learn to communicate with employees in their native tongues. Doing this promoted good feelings among employees who knew they were respected no matter what their nationality or culture was.
Diversity and Friction
For workplace diversity to succeed, the friction between people of different sexes, genders, races, and cultures must be reduced, and preferably eliminated. This can only happen with an overarching corporate culture based in trust and kindness. Companies that create such cultures will dominate in the global economy because they will draw from the largest talent pools and have low-friction environments that allow everyone to focus on doing great things.