4 steps to increase organizational diversity

By Evan Bleier
The Brief
Organizational diversity, while admirable, goes beyond playing fair. A diverse internal network can spur success in all facets of your company. It’s not easy to achieve, but it’s worth it.

Picture-NPR CEO Diversity

Cred: Budget Bytes

Stock brokers (and some of the members of Wu-Tang Clan) will sometimes advise traders to “diversify their bonds” to stabilize their investments and minimize risk. It’s not exactly apples-to-apples, but that same sort of thinking applies to lots of business decisions, including how to build your organizational network. Think of your collection of contacts as your relationship capital, and much like your financial portfolio, it’s most effective when it offers the most variety—of backgrounds, industries and levels of experience.

The folks over at National Public Radio have embraced the idea. It’s one of the reasons Jarl Mohn was recently hired to be CEO and president. Mohn, a 40-year industry veteran, comes to NPR after serving as board chairman for KPCC Southern California Public Radio as well as doing time as a top exec at MTV, E! Entertainment Television and XM Radio. One of his main tasks, according to the New York Times, will be to help the network execute a plan to diversify both its audience—by age, ethnicity and geography, and its talent. Mohn has already pointed to diversity in the workplace as an essential element of peak organizational performance. “People from different walks of life have different points of view,” he told The Times.

“There is the old adage that you should keep work and personal life separate, but I think we benefit from interacting with a wide range of social groups,”  Charles Sweeney, CEO of Bloxx.
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The diverse network

Organizational diversity helps problem solving, improves customer service and expands the general knowledge base. But it doesn’t stop at your company’s front door. Your employees’ external contacts, when shared within the organization, can produce new client leads and business opportunities. Maintaining a diverse list of primary organizational contacts (i.e. those who work in your company) whose relationship capital you can leverage, saves everyone time and energy.

“There is the old adage that you should keep work and personal life separate, but I think we benefit from interacting with a wide range of social groups,” says Charles Sweeney, the CEO of web content filtering firm Bloxx. “For me it opens up the opportunity to learn more, benefit from varied perspectives and hear about how different people in different situations approach opportunities and challenges.”

So, yes, everyone should want to instill organizational diversity. How do you do that, though? Glad you asked.

  1. Start at the top: Simply sending HR a memo won’t cut it. Every company leader has to be on board with improving diversity. The concept will flow down through the organization from them.
  2. Connect with the community: Contact local organizations—churches, cultural institutions, colleges—to find potential employees you might not reach otherwise.
  3. Be discerning, not discriminatory: Look past the degrees a candidate may or may not have, instead examining the skills and relevant experience they bring to the table. “If you’re good at building teams but not the best at paperwork, it doesn’t mean you’re not meritorious,” Paul Schmitz, the president of career-training company Public Allies, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  4. Learn from mistakes: Interview departing employees about how diversity, or lack thereof, has affected their experience at the company. Mine them for have suggestions on making the situation better. Don’t let the good ideas die.

Of course, if it were so easy, NPR wouldn’t need Jarl Mohn. But if increasing diversity is no simple task, it’s worth it in the end. As Sallie Krawcheck, chair of the professional women’s network Ellevate, wrote in a blog post for LinkedIn, “It takes a commitment throughout an organization, starting with the very top, to engage professionals through the course of their careers, in recognition of the real competitive advantage this can drive.”

Easily achieved or not, organizational diversity is critical to organizational growth, and as the C-suite takes notice, more and more companies may start taking NPR’s lead in their hiring decisions.

Evan Bleier is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Maxim, Huffington Post and United Press International. This is his second post for this blog.

RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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