Champion for Change: Why I’m Dedicated to Diversity
Originally published via LinkedIn
Life teaches us a lot of lessons–if we’re open to them. One of the most enlightening in my life started with a seemingly mundane 20-minute drive quite a few years back. The company I was working for at the time was about to undertake a massive reorganization and overhaul its internal systems. My boss and I were assigned to a project which required us to commute together two ways every weekday for a month.
From the outset my boss announced, “I’m driving.” I was surprised, a bit apprehensive and, I have to admit, uncomfortable. Why? He was a quadriplegic with only partial use of his hands.
It wasn’t only the idea of him driving. The actual mechanics of it —the equipment and operating procedures that made it possible for him to commute and lead a more “normal” life —were intimidating, too. Before long, however, I marveled at his mastery of the hand brake and hand accelerator. What was initially disconcerting and unfamiliar to me became ordinary.
Collaborating side by side for up to 10 hours a day on the reengineering project, I was profoundly inspired by working so closely with this man. He surprised me not so much with his professional expertise but rather with his intrinsic ability as a leader. His commitment, decisiveness, honesty, confidence and tenacity made me determined to up my game.
While we didn’t have diversity training back then, this experience taught me two lessons that I’ve carried forward ever since. The first, of course, is the most fundamental: We shouldn’t prejudge anybody. When we do, it often says more about us than anyone else. But the second lesson is equally profound: Truly inspiring people are all too rare, and your own life will be the poorer if you don’t open your heart and your mind to them, whatever their race, religion, background or, in this case, physical limitations.
The case for encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace has never been stronger. Looking at our bosses, colleagues, customers—things aren’t as homogenous as they once were. Today, it’s more like an index fund of the human race – and rightfully so. In order to stay relevant today - and beyond - businesses need to keep up with the changing complexion of the world around us.
Consider the elevated role of women as consumers of financial services. By some estimates, women currently control 51% of personal wealth in the U.S. and are expected to control two-thirds by 2020. More so than ever they are becoming the primary breadwinners in their households. That, coupled with the fact that women often live longer than men, means they’re exercising increasing authority over financial decisions and retirement planning.
The same case for being mindful of diversity applies to other demographics, including young people and those from different parts of the world. As the customer population skews younger and more global in nature, technology is radically transforming how companies interact with them. Thanks to social media and the internet, businesses are reaching out to hugely diverse audiences every day, whether they realize it or not.
These are just a few examples of the changing pool of potential customers today’s businesses have to consider. So how do organizations start reaching out, engaging them and meeting their unique needs? For starters, it’s important that businesses recruit a tech-savvy pool of individuals, from different backgrounds and with diverse viewpoints, and create an inclusive environment that is conducive to discovering ideas and sparking innovation.
I often think back to my old manager and his superb leadership skills. If I had discounted him because of his disability, I would have missed out on his insights and diligence. Indeed, without those drives I would have missed a shortcut to an important lesson that often takes us years to learn: It pays to be open to knowing and learning from others who are different from us. We’ll benefit personally and, over time, we’ll find that diverse teams do come up with better solutions to business problems.