Why bother with diversity skills?

The opportunity to get ahead comes wrapped in the challenge. Nothing new then, it always does!

The challenge is both personal and organizational. It is about building cultural proficiency, an intelligence and a skill-set, to thrive in the diversity that surrounds us.

Many terms in our lexicon, such as, remote management, virtual teams, multicultural teams, cross-cultural management, and so on, all have a common root-cause challenge, the diversity amongst us. If only, we could all be alike!

The case for pro-actively addressing this challenge, of building the armour and strengths to thrive in global diversity, is becoming stronger every day, as demonstrated by its brief history.

Consider these arguments:

  1. Diversity is a fact within every large country and continent, be it the United States, Western Europe, India, Canada or Australia. From a few thousand miles it may not appear that way, but market segmentation experts, for votes or pizzas, will tell you about the diversity of their markets. A large enough domestic market does not offer the luxury of ignoring diversity.
  2. The Asian Development Bank projects that the world GDP will shift axis over the next 40 years, with a higher contribution coming from Asian countries. The considerations for such projection are obviously complex and based on several assumptions. However, it is not hard to be convinced of Asia’s increased participation in the world economy with its growing infrastructure, large consumer populations and increasing consumption.
  3. The working age population of the Western economies, Japan and China will decline in the next 20 years, while some countries in Asia and Africa will add another billion people to the global workforce. Obviously there are several implications of this phenomenon the world expects to experience, clearly shifting markets and supply sources, is one such.
  4. Technological changes have impacted our lives significantly in the past 30 years. The rate of technological innovation continues unabated, and the world does continue to shrink. In fact there could well be a common global culture evolving, as researchers study the commonality across our diversity.

The combined impact of these issues is a disruption that we should consider for a minute. The diversity we experience today will accelerate, and, within our own lifetimes. This can present a threat to many, who remain oblivious to the underlying opportunity.

A recent McKinsey survey elicited an overwhelming response that cultural proficiency was a top need for organizations seeking to achieve successful global growth. This is fairly compelling evidence for those who prefer surveys over experiential wisdom.

Let’s address this from the opposite side. What is the threat of inadequate cultural intelligence or diversity skills? This could be long list, but hopefully some of these will strike you as important enough in your situation:

  • Lost business opportunities, customer acquisition and relationship building challenges
  • Unreliable and inadequate supply chain to keep the business competitive
  • Dispersed teams out of sync on critical focus areas, goals, lose empathy and problem solving
  • Unhealthy employee conflict causing loss of productivity, morale and creativity
  • Failed and expensive hiring decisions, supplier relationships, market entries or customer dissatisfaction

In several countries there are statutes and compliance requirements driving inclusion of diversity in business and management. However, the business case for development of the “multi-cultural muscle” is getting stronger. It will increasingly become a critical determinant of success for professionals and companies in the years ahead.


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