Diversity is Our Greatest Opportunity
By: Elizabeth Colón
I took a personality test thinking for sure it would reveal me as a “star,” one of eight possible profiles. Turns out I’m a “supporter;” I was shocked. I likened supporter status to somebody who wasn’t concerned about making their mark. Didn’t the survey know that I founded a successful translation company? That my presentations on the global stage were dubbed inspiring? That I get the deals done
Then I looked at my life, and I realized that supporting others has always been important to me. My influence toward the greater good of employees, colleagues, friends, family, people I meet along the way in business matters to me, “star” rank or not
What does this story have to do with diversity? Everything
It takes many different types of people to make a company successful. It takes stars and supporters, dealmakers and mechanics, creators and traders (more possible profiles from the test). If there were only stars sitting around a table, no one would take copious notes. If they were all creators, new ideas would abound with no one to effect results
The table imagery leads us back to the many faces of diversity. Once upon a time, this conversation was about race and gender. Today, it is so much more
Diversity is a unified representation of our cultures, race, life stage, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation (inherent traits). It is about the experiences we take with us from our youth and how we think and our digital know-how (acquired traits)
I look at millennials as perfect examples in my own company, Metaphrasis. While our executive leadership was mostly born during the “me” decade (a moniker coined by novelist Tom Wolfe) of the seventies, we have found ourselves hiring more of the “we’re-all-in-this-together” millennials. As a result, their world becomes our world. These technology natives have reshaped our company and propagate new ways to engage customers. Revenues tell the fuller story: 2015 outpaced the previous seven years. In the process, we’ve become more innovative
To that point, leaders who exhibit diversity drive innovation. In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, the authors refer to “companies whose leaders exhibit at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits as having two-dimensional diversity.” They go on to say: “2-D diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where ‘outside the box’ ideas are heard.
How does a company embrace diversity? A good place to start is by creating a diversity statement that aligns with your company’s core values. Then, keep on going. Let your team know the benefits of diversity. When we all bring our ideas to the table, everybody wins; this positions our companies for greater profitability, which in turn opens up opportunities for us to offer promotions, bonuses and flextime
Realize that workplace diversity is a lifelong journey. At Metaphrasis, we do a retreat every year. It’s a good reminder of why and how we are embracing diversity. It moves the conversation forward
Diversity impacts many aspects of a business: retention, hiring, brand, employee engagement. A year ago, I was hiring and firing and asking myself “what am I doing wrong?” A consultant pointed out that our values tie back to employees and their contributions to Metaphrasis. This immediately influenced how I interviewed candidates. Rather than focus on job duties, I considered the traits of the candidate relative to our company. Millennials don’t like overtime, but they get the job done. They are socially conscious so they want to see their values reflected in our organization. Within the last year, we’ve had low turnover. For me, this was a good example of diversity management.
Of course, diversity begins with accepting other people and respecting who they are as individuals. Today, though, it is less about being a good corporate citizen and more about economics. In a television interview on the heels of the Hollywood controversy where all 20 of the top nominations for Oscar awards were white, actor Will Smith said: “Diversity is America’s superpower. That's why we are great." During an interview with ABC-TV, Smith described America’s diversity as "So many different people from so many different places adding their ideas, their inspiration and their influences to this beautiful American gumbo."
I’ll add to that: Diversity is corporate America’s greatest opportunity.
Elizabeth Colón is CEO of Metaphrasis Language and Cultural Solutions, LLC (Metaphrasis), a leading Chicago-based language services company. She serves as a Director at Large for NAWBO Chicago.