Why Global Leaders Are Embracing Corporate Diversity

Corporate diversity used to mean simply making sure that underrepresented groups received equal opportunities for jobs.

Corporate DiversityNow, corporate diversity includes every facet of private and nonprofit business governance — from equal employment hiring decisions and executive-level promotions to community outreach programs and global cultural education efforts. Strong emphasis is placed on making sure workers feel and interact comfortably as part of the team.

Moreover, today’s business leaders look at diversity as a means to enhance the bottom line.

What is corporate diversity?

At a basic level, diversity reflects different racial, ethnic, religious, gender, age and cultural groups. It also expands on community outreach efforts through business practices that reflect and respect local, regional and national ethnicity, mores and customs, a process now referred to as “cultural competency.” Corporate diversity also entails implementing programs that ensure opportunities for all employees to rise through the ranks.

From a legal standpoint, today’s corporate workforce must closely mirror the demographics of the surrounding community and society where a company hires employees and engages in business activities.

Who makes corporate diversity decisions?

Traditionally, human resource professionals have been responsible for ensuring workplace diversity. However, the responsibility for implementing diversity measures increasingly falls on the shoulders of the president or CEO.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates the president or CEO implements diversity measures 26 percent of the time. The president or senior management team leads diversity efforts 46 percent of the time, according to a recent SHRM survey.

Diversity vs. inclusion

“Inclusion and diversity have evolved over time because the landscape we’re trying to apply and the principles have changed,” said Shari Slate, vice president, chief inclusion and collaboration officer at Cisco Systems Inc.

The vocabulary has changed to reflect contemporary diversity practices. For example, “inclusion” is a word that frequently surfaces in discussions about diversity. It’s no longer simply a matter of getting different groups into the mix, but making sure people already within a company are able to feel comfortable, and therefore more productive, on the job.

Changing workforce demographics

Workforce population changes have contributed to corporate diversity awareness, said Bettina Deynes, vice president of human resources and diversity at SHRM.

Bettina Deynes, vice president of human resources and diversity at Society for Human Resource Management

Bettina Deynes, vice president of human resources and diversity at Society for Human Resource Management

“By 2020, we will be a majority-minority nation, and the most educated group will be Hispanic women,” Deynes said.

The changing workforce pool will necessitate hiring a broader range of people and will require communication programs that take into consideration all genders, ethnicities, religions, disabilities and veteran status.

Moreover, worldwide birth and education trends are changing the global labor market. The workforces in Canada and the United States are aging, along with their respective populations. As the European worker pool is shrinking, the workforces in the Middle East, Southern Asia and South America are growing, according to Cisco’s Transitioning to Workforce 2020 white paper.

As companies go global through acquisitions and expansions of office locations, they will need to learn cross-cultural communication, said Cisco’s Slate.

“Last year, half of our revenues came from outside the U.S.,” Slate said, noting that international expansion prompted the networking company to focus on inclusion.

“There were huge business imperatives,” she said. “International joint ventures were failing not because of skills competency. These international joint ventures were failing because of lack of cultural competency.”

Global marketplace drives diversity

Cisco and other companies with similar products, such as wearables, smartphones, and interconnectivity devices, which Cisco refers to as “the Internet of everything,” may alter the very nature of the global workforce.


In the past, such a workforce has included some foreign offices, with regional managers making regular visits to the home base or executives visiting regional sites. Today, teams are becoming internationally distributed, placing even greater focus on the needs and demands of global markets.

“Imagine, if you will, that we no longer had to fight for talent, but we could tap into talent clouds” much as we connect to data in the cloud today, Slate said. “A genius of clouds is to innovate dynamically.”

While the changing workforce is making inclusion a byword, global markets are making it a financial imperative.

“Trading partners expect to do business with companies that understand them,” SHRM’s Deynes said. “They demand it.”

In an era of instant communication, where one misstep can go viral through social media and blogging, companies that don’t quickly embrace workplace diversity and inclusion can develop reputations that will hurt them, she said.

When asked specifically what she would say to a manager who simply hired a team of white males, Deynes replied, “Can you really afford to?”

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