Peter Mousaferiadis, the founder and CEO of Cultural Infusion, the company behind Diversity Atlas, shares his reasons why diversity matters to CEOs and how to embrace this zeitgeist moment in time.
It’s no secret that in the corporate world, diversity, equity and inclusion is currently experiencing a zeitgeist moment. Meaning ‘spirit of the age’, it is a concept from German philosophy that encapsulates the intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.
There are few large organisations that do not have at least one dedicated Diversity and Inclusion officer – usually drawn from its human resources department, often a minority themselves. This is a relatively new role in the corporate world, but the diversity trend has spread far and wide and now no big company would be without a Head of Diversity.
This is a great step forward, it’s hard to deny – as little as 15 or so years back, this would never have been the case – if a corporation considered diversity at all, it was to perhaps include affirmative action hires for more women in lower and middle management.
That is not, however, to say there are not still issues to overcome – not the least of which is that the act of appointing an officer to address DEI matters, without further action, is at best tokenistic and unlikely to result in any meaningful change.
This approach of ticking boxes for women and ethnic minorities is no longer viable – organisations are now being called on to think differently about what diversity means. Without explicit understanding of why diversity should be embraced, this is problematic.
The tokenistic approach to DEI is apparently happening more than just occasionally. This has been more than apparent in my talks with many companies interested in our world first diversity mapping tool Diversity Atlas, that some companies approach to DEI is tokenistic – perhaps even done with the best of intentions, it is sometimes hoped that the very act of appointing a Diversity Officer into the c-suite will be a magic cure-all.
In such cases, the goal seems more that the executive board seeks to appease an increasingly libertarian consumer base than in actually improving their companies’ diversity.
Diversity, however is a fact – amongst the greater society, we are increasingly diverse to the extent that a recent demographic analysis conducted by the Pew Research Centre showed that by 2055, the US will no longer have a single racial or ethnic majority. This shift towards a more diverse population will have major impacts on the workforce and how organisations manage diversity in the workplace.”
Considering this, a top-down tokenistic approach to DEI is somewhat limited – and it limits the potential for growth in these organisations. The benefits of a diverse workforce are almost irrefutable at this point – yet it is always worthwhile to recap them.
Here are three reasons diversity matters to CEOs, not just to human resources or the head of diversity.
1. The most diverse team will always outperform the team with greater ability
Performance is improved by diversity. In embracing not only diversity, but equity and inclusion, CEOs can develop a workplace culture where their staff feel comfortable in sharing their ideas and feel proud to contribute. Diverse staff members can combine their varied talents, skill sets and experiences to create not only new products and services, but an organisational culture that fosters acceptance of difference.
Abilities can be learned by individuals, improvements can be made in performance, especially when people of diverse backgrounds and cultures learn from each other. What might start out as a team of less qualified but more diverse employees can develop – a homogenous group is more inclined towards remaining static.
Staticity is the enemy of innovation – leading to my second point.
2. Diversity leads to innovation
Groups of highly qualified people working towards solving problems and innovation have been quite standard, particularly in the tech industry – but these groups have historically been quite homogenous. When working alongside people with varied working styles and different backgrounds, the breadth of conceptual output is significantly widened.
In the Medium article Six Designs That White People Never Notice Are Racist, we can clearly see how the very design of many products are exclusionary of cultural groups other than the dominant – from cosmetics to heart rate monitors that rely on melanin levels in the skin for a reliable, accurate result. If different cultural groups had been consulted as part of the innovation process, would these shortcomings still be included in the end products? I doubt it.
The trouble with homogeneity, even among highly qualified and experienced innovators, is that different lived experiences aren’t represented – who better than a neuro-diverse team member to understand the needs of the neuro-diverse community, for example? As such, product development can become more inclusive, as well as the staff of the organisation.
3. Diverse organisations have wider talent pools from which to hire
When we carefully manage and embrace the benefits of a diverse workplace, we invariably wind up drawing a wider range of candidates to our job vacancies. This on its own is great, but it is when we free ourselves of unconscious bias that we truly yield the benefits of this breadth of talent. Increasingly, organisations that are truly dedicated to diversity and inclusion are broadening their minds to the kinds of candidates they will interview for positions – not just top-tier university graduates and not just vastly experienced candidates, for example.
As the organisation becomes known for its culture of inclusivity, the number of applicants invariably rises – leading to the chance of landing the perfect person for the job rising as well.
Diversity matters to CEOs
The advantages of a diverse and inclusive workplace are irrefutable, but there is a caveat: diversity needs to be carefully managed. It can’t just be the responsibility of one human resources officer. The entire executive board needs to be behind Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives – none more so than the Chief Executive Officer.