Diversity at Its Finest: Turning Problems Into Opportunities

July 1, 2015


When companies engage in diversity initiatives, the discussion often centers on the poor representation of minorities in the workplace. The mistake is in thinking that simply hiring more diverse candidates is the solution.

This is why diversity is regularly confused with affirmative action. Affirmative action seeks to right the wrongs of the past by hiring, training and promoting under-represented groups. Diversity, on the other hand, is a strategy to enhance the dynamic of an organization through innovation.

Diversity provides the opportunity to change the corporate culture of a company by creating an environment where employees are free to draw from their personal experiences.

We automatically identify diversity with what we see, such as race, ethnicity, age and gender. But diversity also includes what isn’t automatically identifiable — such as sexual orientation or religious faith.

In order for diversity to fulfill its true possibility, top leaders need to create a workplace environment where employees understand that their voices are valued and accepted.

In my nearly 15 years of working on multicultural initiatives, the most common phrase used by HR professionals is: “We have a diversity problem.” There’s almost a panic-stricken reaction around boardrooms when it’s discovered that employee rosters are not inclusive or reflective of the communities that they serve.

Redefining American culture

“We have a diversity opportunity.” I admit that this is just another way of saying the same thing. But how it’s framed can have different outcomes. Positive framing provides a necessary pause to explore the possibilities and reduce the risks often brought on by a rush to action.

In a country where the mainstream is changing rapidly, diversity is simply a good business opportunity.

The birthrates among “minority” groups continue to outpace those of Whites. The Census projects that by 2042, ethnic and racial minorities will be the nation’s majority. The United States’ economic growth depends on the spending strength of this population. 

To borrow a phrase from The Borg from “Star Trek”: “Resistance is futile.” But unlike The Borg, the emerging multicultural majority isn’t assimilating — they’re acculturating. Instead of adapting to established traits, they’re infusing their own modifications, which are redefining American culture. And marketers are taking notice.

Target’s #SinTraduccion marketing campaign is a perfect example of how companies are taking a total market approach. The spot highlights “sobremesa,” a family interacting with each other around a table after the end of a meal. The only English-language words spoken are: “There will always be part of you that simply doesn’t translate.”

Marketers previously thought that they needed both an English-language ad and a Spanish-language ad to reach the approximately 54 million U.S. Hispanics. But more than 60 percent of the targeted audience speaks English or is bilingual, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Turning words into actions

Corporate leaders who convince themselves that the diversity problem (as they identify it) will resolve itself organically once new diverse employees enter the workforce are blinded by their prejudices and resistance to change.

Too often, companies hire for diversity but reward for conformity. A multicultural candidate is brought in on the promise of leading change, only to find that leaders nurture a culture that favors those who follow the status quo.

For all of the rhetoric about championing change in the C-suite, if leaders do not see diversity as the opportunity that it is, then the type of innovative thinking that produced the #SinTraduccion campaign would not be possible.

Hugo Balta

Hugo Balta is the senior director of Hispanic Initiatives at ESPN. His work focuses on collaborative projects across platforms and networks focused on best serving U.S. Hispanics. Find more articles like these on his blog, Straight Talk.


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