Celebrating our Differences

by Karen Hubbard January 21, 2019

Last weekend, we brought together a team of talented experts from seven different states for an exercise with the Michigan National Guard. Over the four days, we got to know each other and discussed our experiences. Upon leaving one evening, I signed off by telling everyone to watch for deer, a typical farewell where I come from in rural Northeast Ohio. I was met with smiles and a few puzzled looks. “What, you don’t say that?” I asked, and no one did. In Ohio, the deer population is large and plentiful and during certain times of the year car accidents are common. Though most of the others lived within a few hours drive of me, we didn’t share the same colloquialism. Our little group of eight had layers of unique viewpoints impacted by our cultures, our upbringings, and our geographic locations, which made for fascinating and educational conversations.

The demographics of the workplace are changing at a rapid rate, with 44% of Millennials belonging to a minority race. However, as culture evolves, businesses are not keeping up. Only 3% of American workplaces have senior leadership that reflect America’s racial composition.  Additionally, 41% of business managers decline to implement diversity initiatives because they are “too busy.” Working groups do not include the unique perspectives of diverse individuals may find those individuals are less inclined to participate and offer suggestions.

To ensure every member of your organization has an equal voice to your success, capitalize on the strengths of the individuals on your team. Stereotypes exacerbate conflict, so determine ways to eliminate them. Empower groups to learn from one another. Implement a reverse mentoring program, allowing younger workers to take the lead in projects and to teach their fellow coworkers.

Diverse teams are strong teams. The landscape of the United States is changing, and workplaces should complement these changes with a strategic plan to embrace the unique and valuable insights across gender, race, ethnicity, and age. Companies with a diverse workforce have a higher rate of employee satisfaction and productivity. Talent attraction and retention rates are higher to comparable industries. A study of the top quarter of ethnically and racially diverse teams from 366 public companies found these organizations were 35% more likely to have above average financial returns.

All social interactions require a degree of vulnerability. Openness fosters an environment for worthwhile and important social growth. An authentic approach will allow others to lower their guards and eliminate biases preventing better connections. Being up front about expectations prevents toxicity in your culture from taking root. Celebrate the differences in your organization, engage in meaningful conversation, and use the opportunity to diversify to enrich your workplace.


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