Diversity at the Door: Let It In!
As a business owner, I am more aware than ever of the need for workplace diversity. Expertise in any area is a strong foundation for success and diversity is one increasingly important way to make it stronger.
To increase our opportunities for consideration with companies that seek to use the services of minority or women-owned businesses, we applied and were recently granted WBE (Women Business Enterprise) Certification status through an exhaustive process.
I have succeeded in results oriented, performance driven environments and I welcome the chance to continue that success through initiatives that encourage diversity.
However, the question I find myself asking is: Are companies embracing diversity through choice or opening the door to diversity only because they are being mandated to do so?
Mandate vs. Choice
It is easy to track the use of MWBE firms on government projects where usage is often mandated and rewarded. But what about the private sector? Are companies large and small embracing diversity by choice or mandate?
If companies believe that expertise provides a strong foundation for success, then it's time to embrace the power of diversity for the benefits that it brings to the table and not just because of mandates. Choosing to engage is much more powerful than being mandated to do so.
Embracing the diversity of people, thoughts and ideas in the workplace makes for a stronger, better informed team and results in a positive impact on the bottom line in the process. It's also a lot more interesting and, as Malcolm Forbes defines diversity: "the art of thinking independently together", gives all a chance to shine.
My personal views on workplace diversity are most notably influenced by my life experiences, gender and age. Even though I spent twenty years in the heavily male dominated hedge fund industry, I have never felt part of a minority class.
However, the shocking reality highlighted in the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) report review in Boutique Design magazine is that, in the industry of interior design that is generally viewed to be very inclusive and is dominated by women, I am a minority.
This report just issued by the IIDA titled "Design & Diversity" states that less than 25% of firms providing interior design services are owned, managed and run by women. While interior design is dominated by women (69%), the vast majority of design firms are run by men. When you read statistics like this you realize how important WBE mandates are in opening doors...even if forcefully so.
Where To Start
As a Principal in a 100% women-owned, managed and run firm that provides interior design and purchasing services to the hospitality industry, I want to consider these numbers and do all I can to encourage diversity of all types and at all levels.
When the door opens, maximizing the value of diversity of people, thoughts and ideas begins with some business basics that keep the door from slamming shut:
Talent and Expertise
One of the most powerful things we can all do to encourage diversity in the workplace is to listen to diverse views regardless of the source. We have all had the experience of engaging in a conversation where we knew someone was listening...or not. In a world of ever increasing technology that can often be a distraction, the skills associated with active listening become even more important.
Mutual respect is a cornerstone of good business practice. Only from a place of mutual respect can you build towards a consensus or, in some cases, agree to disagree on good terms. In a diverse workplace, mutual respect is more important than ever.
Good listening and mutual respect allow talent and expertise to be front and center and also position us to be better learners. The desire and ability to continue to learn from a diverse group increases expertise and makes for better business.
The most recent DiversityInc survey results were released and it is great to see some heavy hitters in hospitality as part of the top 50 list. With our WBE Certification in hand, it will be interesting to see if the systems work to present new opportunities.
However, regardless of the source of introduction, we will bring a diverse point of view and understanding that our experience and the quality of our work determines our success.
Our gender may open the door, but we don't ever want it to be the only reason we're in the room.
A Knock On the Door
Ultimately, the WBE Certification is a network. Like any other network, it allows for a path of introduction, but once introduced you need to perform to continue on the journey.
By listening and being respectful of diverse ideas we increase our knowledge and create a richer experience for ourselves, our organizations and the clients we serve.
Over time more doors will open without the need to formally identify differences. We hope that they will remain open as diversity in the workplace proves that it leads to better business.
Until then, listen for the knock and your business will be better for letting it in.