As the cultural demographic shift continues to transform the face of America, business leaders are taking a closer look at their Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) efforts and asking, ‘What really should our D&I efforts be solving for?
The reality is that D&I is no longer just a numbers game, nor just another politically correct workplace initiative; it’s about bridging the opportunity gaps that will continue to widen if we continue to ignore the message the marketplace is clearly telling us: that it’s becoming less about the business defining the individual and much more about the individual defining the business. As such, American enterprise must adopt D&I as a strategy for growth if they are to compete in the 21st century. For those corporations that do, I believe there are at least six things that D&I can solve for in our efforts to bridge the growing opportunity gaps that span all industries.
I recently spoke with one executive who not only agrees with this assessment, but is already leading the way in each of these areas as his organization continues to make D&I a linchpin in their strategy for growth. As a Tax Partner at Deloitte Tax, Jorge Caballero takes responsibility for – and has unleashed his passionate pursuits on – developing a more inclusive workforce and advancing more diverse leaders into senior leadership roles where they can have more of an impact and greater influence. As the needs of the marketplace rapidly evolve, he has long recognized that diversity of thought is crucial for business growth and evolution, and he works to cultivate authentic relationships built on collaboration and trust. Where many organizations remain fixated on playing a numbers game, Caballero is focused on finding the right talent and maximizing their full potential as the means to grow and compete and remain relevant.
According to Caballero, Diversity & Inclusion as a business strategy is driven by the needs of their clients and also the well-being of their own professionals and their opportunities to find success. That means you must foster an environment of authenticity and openness – a place where people feel comfortable having a dialog not just about their similarities, but about their differences and the uniqueness they bring to the table.
“Diversity plays a critical role in everything that we do, including the diversity of thought that we bring to serve our clients,” says Caballero. “The continued shift in the population means that more and more minorities must take on leadership roles and emerge as leaders within the organization. Two-thirds (66%) of our new hires last year were women and minorities, and I can’t help comparing that to 36 years ago when I was but one of one minorities in my starting class. That’s a huge demographic shift and you have to be prepared to retain those individuals by developing them, providing the right mentorship and sponsorship, and helping them advance into leadership roles. In our case, that ultimately means promoting them into the partner and director ranks.”
Caballero continues by citing all of the evidence that shows how much more effective well-integrated diverse teams are than non-diverse teams. The ones that perform best are the ones that are open with one another – where each individual feels valued enough to bring their authentic and unique selves to the dynamics of the team. Developing this type of inclusive culture is important for any organization, but particularly for those whose business depends on selling the expertise and capabilities of their professionals.
How is this different from the past? Again, Caballero points to his own history.
“When I was starting out in the 1980s, there was very little value placed on my uniqueness,” explains Caballero. “The conventional wisdom was that you needed to assimilate, you needed to be like everyone else, i.e., the majority. Fast forward to today and from the top of the organization on down there is real recognition of the value in being authentic, in leveraging what makes us unique, not only as it relates to the work of our client service teams but in terms of actually interacting with our clients – and ultimately to the continued growth and success of our business.”
When that recognition strikes, it can be a game changer in terms of diversity & inclusion enabling an organization to gain distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace. Seeing D&I as a business strategy – and making it a change management imperative –is how we will finally start to close the opportunity gaps that heretofore have been widening at an accelerating pace.
At Deloitte Tax, Caballero has seized on the opportunity to shrink those gaps, such as the critically important step of developing trust between client and service provider before any business can be done in many cultures. Because their client service teams are so diverse, they can include individuals from similar backgrounds and cultural perspectives as the client, giving them a deep understanding of what is important to the client in developing a relationship.
Language can be a barrier as well, and Caballero has firsthand experience with this. “We were making a proposal on a very large Hispanic business opportunity,” relates Caballero, “and from my vantage point on the client service team, I was able to share not only a similar personal background, but the commonality of language (i.e., Spanish). Because the client could speak to me in their own language, and I could convey that we understood their needs and concerns, we were able to allay their fears about moving from a relatively small service provider to a very large multinational firm.”
Ultimately, Caballero looks at their overall diversity & inclusion strategy from two different perspectives. There’s the altruistic part of it, simply because it’s the right thing to do at the right time. But there’s also a strong business case for it, because the sustainability and any future growth of the business going forward depends upon it. Even so, too many organizations are still apprehensive about talking about, let alone dealing with this issue. It’s clear that leaders must become more courageous, and Caballero says it must start from the top.
“Whatever you do in an organization always starts at the top and then cascades down throughout it,” says Caballero, “and this is no different. So it’s really important to have leadership that believes in diversity and inclusion as a strategy, makes it a top priority, and talks about it whenever and wherever they can.”
He continues: “We all tend to gravitate to individuals who look and act like us, but to be successful from a diversity perspective, we have to let go of that general premise. We have to be open to our differences, to understanding different cultures and backgrounds, and our different upbringings and approaches to doing things.
“Think of the possibilities that we then open ourselves up to, the value that we can bring to our clients and the organizations we serve. Instead of all thinking alike and coming up with the same solutions to the same issues – perhaps not always the best ones – we can bring real value, creativity and innovation – and the best solution – to each new situation. Creating an open dialog and a healthy work environment of diverse teams carries over to our client engagements, enabling us to provide more effective solutions and have greater impact on the issues they are facing, which really distinguishes us from our competitors.”
Today we know that the cultural demographic shift is taking us to a place where embracing diversity of thought is the new currency for growth. Diverse individuals are making up more and more of the workforce, and whether or not you’re in the service provider business, more and more of the marketplace and the clients we serve. These are the new leaders, decision-makers and influencers of the not so distant future, and those who don’t embrace this shift now may never catch up – as they continue to unknowingly create tension in the workplace, instead of bringing people of different backgrounds and life experiences together to strengthen their culture and their overall business.
This article was written by Glenn Llopis from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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