“Diversity programs are not only the right thing to do, but they are also the smart and necessary thing to do. We view diversity and inclusion, and promotion of different cultural perspectives, as catalysts, because we know these efforts unleash innovation and create new solutions to society’s major challenges. It’s exciting to imagine a future in which we fully utilize the diversity of our profession and our workplaces to better serve our world.” With those remarks, Otis Shelton, AIChE’s 2014 president, opened the AIChE Gala last month (p. 64).
The companies and executives honored at the gala clearly see diversity as essential to business success. In a blog post on diversity as a competitive advantage, Marisa Lauri, a professor in the School of Management at George Brown College (Toronto), cites benefits such as: improved marketing and customer service through better understanding and accommodation of diverse customer groups and their needs; improved employee morale, performance, and productivity through equitable workplace practices that select, develop, and treat people based on merit and fairness; improved retention and cost reductions due to lower absenteeism and turnover; improved ability to attract and recruit top talent; reduced risk of discrimination lawsuits as a result of a more just and nondiscriminatory environment; and improved employee creativity, problem-solving and decision-making through effective management of diverse perspectives and creative conflict.
DiversityInc has shown that these benefits translate to a better bottom line. The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity are selected based on a quantitative analysis of 183 separate factors in four key areas: talent pipeline, equitable talent development, CEO and upper management commitment, and supplier diversity. When the 2013 Top 50 list was expressed as a stock market index, it outperformed the S&P 500 by 29% over one year, by 33% over three years, and by 80% over five years; it bested the Dow Jones Industrial Average by 20%, 23%, and 50% over the same periods.
Many people associate the word diversity with racial and/or gender differences, which often leads to thoughts of affirmative action and triggers (consciously or subconsciously) biases against those who are different. But diversity involves much more than identity differences such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.
In his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Scott Page focuses on cognitive differences, and explains that cognitive diversity has four dimensions: perspectives (how we represent situations and problems); interpretations (how we categorize and classify things); heuristics (how we generate solutions); and predictive models (how we approach problems, e.g., analyzing a situation vs. looking for themes).
Those are the elements of diversity that gala honoree Pat Woertz, Chairman and CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, must have been referring to when she said “without the diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and capabilities that define our organization today, it would be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to do our job well. … It is the people we work with every day — their varied histories, experiences, and points of view — that make global companies so exciting to work for.”
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