Diversity: The Lens of Potential

The simple truth? We live in complex times.

While world is getting smaller and more interconnected, it is increasingly difficult to reach out and truly connect with each other.   Technology provides the means of uniformly linking the masses, but too often at the cost of recognizing the individual.  There is richness in that diversity that needs further realization.

What inspires me to examine diversity more closely are the real life stories of the modern workplace.  As someone who works with international talent and global mobility issues, I look well beyond the local (Canadian) job market to the international talent pool.  I work with organizations to find and relocate specialized skills to supplement their existing employee base.  These foreign workers add immensely to the team because they bring a value previously unconsidered by many organizations.

The issue of diversity is “hot” for many reasons.  Canada, by its very nature, is diverse.  We are made up a diverse population of temporary, newly arrived and more settled immigrants living in a complex cultural mosaic in vast country.  Canada has long eschewed the American metaphor of the melting pot.  Nonetheless, in many cases we retain within our organizations a certain homogeneity of mindset.

While our population and culture have been shaped by things such as our immigration policies and migration patterns, change has been slower to come to the boardroom.  Continued shifts in demographic trends will demand even further diversified work forces as we look to alternative pools of talent. The reality of the workplace is that our future workforce will mainly come from abroad since we are not growing organically fast enough.  How we address the talent pool/war is crucial to the integrated success of businesses worldwide seeking to contend with the same global forces.

From a human resources perspective, the workplace has already become diversified, a microcosm of the greater macrocosm of the Canadian cultural mosaic. In order to be competitive on the world stage and global market place, smart business people leverage diversity and seek to understand how this impacts organizational productivity and how we do business.  It isn’t just about culture or language or religion or any of the surface differences we normally see.  There is diversity in everything and it is everywhere.  What we need to do is to understand it and tap into its power.

Many of my colleagues deal with globally built teams daily.  International organizations relocate and localize expatriates to their operations domestically and abroad all the time.  We have seen more of this type of outsourcing in the last decade.  The practical operational costs are lower; but if the cultural differences (and accompanying diversity) issues are not addressed, the long term sustainability is compromised.  We are starting to see this as the companies with transplanted call centres and production facilities are experiencing some backlash.  In addition, the overlooked issues such as reverse culture shock of repatriation and economic impacts on countries relying heavily on foreign parent companies start to emerge.  What was viewed as innovative cost cutting at the time has generated a snowball effect with global proportions.  The price of ignoring diversity is a diminished ROI for businesses of any size, anywhere.

The obvious question becomes: “How might we factor diversity from an HR perspective?”

Recruitment – (How to reach a diverse potential workforce.) Most humans have the same basic needs for love, acceptance and meaningful purpose.  Are these part of your core culture? Effective recruitment practices should support and strengthen the organizational culture.  To do this, we should be broadening our pipeline and changing our approaches to reach a broader base of potential talent.

Retention – Successful organizations have figured out ways to communicate and engage with their staff to bring out the best outcomes which in turn feeds back into the business in the form of loyalty and productivity.

Innovation – Multiple perspectives brings varied views and reveal unexplored avenues of potentia. Bringing different talents and perspectives together can be very powerful . What turns great individual ideas into products and services though is the infrastructure and organizational support. Recognizing diversity helps better determine the appropriate reward and incentive to encourage further innovation.

Organizational Effectiveness – In difficult times, are we trimming the fat or taking the easy way out?  As an alternative to cutting positions, HR should be obtaining strategic buy-in to look for creative ways to cultivate and harness the diverse talents and skills of the existing workforce.  Tightening belts doesn’t have to mean sacrificing FTE’s and new projects.  The key is targeting actions that are profitable and effective – maximizing creativity in cost savings ideas and improving efficiency over just making “those numbers look good”.

Clarity of objectives/goals – Are we focusing on the right things when we look for the right people?  During the selection process, a good way for a hiring manager to recognize the importance of certain skill sets and solidify his/her candidate selection and final decision by clarifying the ultimate objective for that position.  The best choice and the weakest choice are revealed very quickly when you focus on what you truly need.

Cultural ROI – Everyone knows that we have cultural differences in the workplace.  There are various levels of recognition and acknowledgement based on the cultural sensitivity of the environment.  The government programs for diversity such as employment equity are just one small component. However, this should not be an issue driven by the government alone.  Human resources strategy needs to address and understand how to tap into this important component to enhance the overall business strategy.

All of these aspects are not only impacted by HR, but can be strategically directed for maximum effect on organizational growth and development.  The subject of diversity is vast and largely overlooked or misunderstood.  The different definitions used have not been agreed upon even by those who implement diversity programs.  Not only is this topic here to stay, it will play a key role in progressive human resource programs of the future.  No matter what country we live in, the size of organization or type of business we are a part of, diversity is the reality of the future.

Diversity reveals the blind spots in our ‘singular’ vision of success because the business landscape has evolved but we haven’t adjusted our operational approach to match the current conditions.  We have been addressing global opportunities with homogenous mindsets.  Are we going to be up to the challenge to expand beyond our comfort zones or are we going to lag behind until it is too late to catch up?

We all have a lot to learn but the good news is that diversity evolves naturally if we exhibit genuine interest in seeing the world at large and then letting diversity widen the lens of our potential vision.

Amelia Chan, CHRP, is the principal of Higher Options (www.hr-options.com), a boutique consulting firm providing support to small and medium-sized businesses, specializing in HR management, operational excellence and immigration service.

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