The Business Case for Inclusion and Diversity: Is Your Business Postured for Success in an Increasingly Diverse Market?

The arrival of the Information Age has made the world smaller.  Consumers have greater access to goods and services offered in varying markets across the world through a Wi-Fi connection and a few phone or mouse clicks.  The accessibility of information in real-time brings the people of the world closer. People are sharing, and reacting to the same data at the same time across the world.  This seemingly “smaller world” makes its’ inhabitants feel more like “global citizens”. Increased access to more markets by definition makes these markets more competitive.  Consumers are more selective about the products and services they purchase, often choosing products that reflect their values over products that offer the lowest price point.

Businesses that understand this shrinking effect the internet has on the world will be best postured to dominate global markets for the foreseeable future.  A key component to selling to these dynamic global markets is having a diverse workforce that can connect with this diverse customer base. As a twenty-year combat veteran and health administrator I have studied, inclusion, diversity, strategic planning, leadership principals, and developed some appreciation for what drives consumer behavior.  In military planning circles it has often been said that “the best way to stop a tank is with another tank.” Similarly, the best way to sell products and services to women and minority groups is to have women and minorities in your R&D, IT, Marketing, and Operations departments. Not just diversity for the sake of diversity, but a diverse team of professionals in key positions with the requisite education and training to help develop and implement your company’s strategy.  

One has to go no further than the Nike Corporation to find a prime-example of how to leverage diversity to connect with your consumer in a way that adds to your organization’s bottom line. On September 4, 2018 Nike launched an advertising campaign with the subtext of, “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.” Nike selected Colin Kaepernick, former NFL quarterback as the face of the campaign.  Kaepernick became a household name by refusing to stand for the national anthem before each game in protest to his perceptions of police brutality and oppression of black and brown people. At a campaign rally in Alabama, President Trump infamously implied that Kaepernick and others who did not stand for the national anthem were “Son’s of Bitches” and should be fired for not standing during the anthem.

The day after Nike released the ad some costumers videoed themselves burning their Nike shoes and apparel.  Nike’s stock price fell 3%, but then rebounded to 4.2% by week’s end. Nike’s online sales jumped by 25% the following week and the Nike stock is currently trading at an all-time high.  Nike had the guts to take such a huge risk because its staff is among the most diverse in the industry. Their multidisciplinary team of professionals was able to understand and connect with their consumer base in a way that positively impacted their bottom line.

Women influence 70% - 80% of all consumer spending, make up 51% of the work force, yet only 5.5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. This gender imbalance exists in virtually every industry from fashion to finance.  The numbers for ethnic minorities are similarly striking. Blacks make up roughly 13% of the U.S. population, and spend an estimated $1.3 trillion on consumer goods annually, but make up only 2% of fortune 500 CEOs. This lack of diverse representation in America’s largest corporate suites can be directly correlated to missed opportunities to increase market share amongst a rapidly changing consumer base.  So what can an organization do increase its diversity? Ah, will I’m glad you asked.

Steps to Increasing Diversity in Your Organization

1. Step 1, Awareness.  Make yourself aware of the demographic makeup of your organization as well as the demographics of your consumer base. If your organization is more or less reflective of the customers it serves and is seeking to serve, good job, keep up the good work!  If your organization falls short of your ideal mix this article contains pragmatic steps that can help increase the diversity of your organization.

2. Step 2, Establish a Culture of Inclusion. The terms diversity and inclusion are often used interchangeably.  They speak to the same theme or idea of expanding the tent to encompass personnel from all walks of life, and all ethnicities, but one is a verb and one is an adjective. Inclusion is creating a culture that values diversity, and seeks to remove barriers to full participation by under-represented segments of the population. Inclusion starts at the top.  Cliché, but true. Leaders set the tone for the organization, by what they do, and what they evaluate. Minorities are not strangers to marginalization, they can smell insincerity a mile away. If you are not sincere about establishing a culture of inclusion you will not succeed. The military can offer many lessons on inclusion. The armed forces ended the practice of segregation within its workforce in 1948, six years before the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education.  Women achieved pay equity in 1943 with the integration of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps into the respective armed services, and women were admitted to the previously all-male uniformed service academies in 1976, a time when women still needed a male consigner to obtain a credit card. Today the military can boast that women makeup 5.5% of flag officer positions (CEO equivalents) and 17% of the total force. Black generals such as Lieutenant General (retired) Russell Honoré, General (retired) Lloyd Austin, General (retired) Colin Powell, and Lieutenant General Nadja West, the current Army Surgeon General, come from a long tradition of women and minorities advancing to the top ranks since the early 1970s.  These achievements didn’t happen overnight. They were made possible through the military’s commitment to cultivating leaders that reflected the troops they led and the nation they served.

3. Step 3, Recruitment, Recruitment, Recruitment.  If you are unable to find what you lack, you may not be looking in the right place.  Talent can be found everywhere, opportunity isn’t. Often when we think recruiting our thoughts immediately venture to the Ivy League or other elite institutions of higher learning.  If your search begins and ends there and you still can’t establish that diverse management force, widen your aperture to include some paths less travelled. Americas Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) turn out thousands of minority professionals annually and have done so dating back to a time when HBCUs were the only game in town for them.

4. Step 4, Objectives, Metrics and Measures. Establish objectives, metrics, and measures to gauge your success before you launch your inclusion strategy.  Have some idea of what your end state goals and objectives are for your diversity program. Develop concrete quantifiable goals related to your inclusion efforts and diversity program. Metric development specifically for inclusion is something you may want to consider outsourcing to a consultant who specializes in this type of work.

5. Think Broadly- Don’t limit your diversification strategy to the traditional definitions of diversity; give consideration to generational diversity, regional diversity, and socio-economic diversity.

In Summary

Technology will continue to have a shrinking effect on global markets for the foreseeable future.  A diverse workforce, who are trained, strategically placed within one’s organization, and part of an inclusive corporate culture will become an increasing part of an organizations’ agility, and strategic positioning within markets.  Diversity is not only ethically prudent for businesses, it is a sound practice that yields positive returns.