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Diversity and Competitive Advantage September 5, 2018

by Matt Walker

As a Talent Acquisition Specialist, one of the most important things I can do for my employer is to enhance staff performance through diversity. The reason has little to do with compliance with the law. Instead, it has everything to do with providing a competitive advantage. Simply put, diversity confers an immediate competitive advantage.

The premise is simple. Successful companies appeal to a broad range of customers. They do so by understanding potential customers’ needs and perceptions and then constructing product and service offerings responsive to those broad perceived needs and preferences.

It seems straightforward. But consider what would happen if your staff only reflected individuals from the same socioeconomic, educational and cultural backgrounds – or any other parameter – and shared precisely the same interests. Your firm’s ability to appeal to potential customers would be severely limited. Why? Because every employee on the team would share a common perspective and would assume all customers are just like them. That assumption leads to a fatal business mistake.

When it comes to building successful businesses, few people compare to Jeff Bezos. The story is often told that there’s always an empty chair present in all of his business meetings. This chair serves to remind Bezos’ leadership of the customer, who is the most important person in the room. It is a powerful symbolic reminder that the customer comes first.

However, the empty chair will serve little purpose if the executives in attendance lack cultural intelligence. That is, without first understanding that not everyone in the world shares the same preferences and opinions as they do, the team’s capacity to think beyond their own perspective is impaired. For the empty chair to be truly meaningful, it must represent someone different to every person in the room. Only then will the team be able to accurately gauge the thoughts and preferences of actual and potential customers in every persona they may take.

The strongest teams comprise very different players who share only one characteristic in common: the passion to do the best job possible. In fact, the more differences that exist among team members, the stronger the team will be.

When a diverse team looks at the empty chair, each individual will envision a different customer. As a whole, the team will not only encompass more perspectives in their decisioning but also reach better decisions due to a broader perspective being applied. Moreover, each team member will consider different criteria and employ problem-solving skills evolved from their own unique experience. As a result, the ultimate product or service will not focus on just one customer genre but rather appeal to the broader “customer.”

Having made the case for a diverse workforce, the question then becomes, How do you recruit for diversity? My answer is simple: Hire the best person for the job. If you do, diversity will happen on its own.

Consciously or subconsciously, we tend to hire people who appear to think the way we do, look the way we do, have the same qualifications as every other staff person, and so on. My recommendation is don’t look for a fit through similarities. Eliminate bias, bigotry, nepotism, prejudice and the desire for conformity. Look for people with different interests and different backgrounds. Hire based solely on individuals’ qualifications to do the job and, of course, their motivation and passion to complete the task at hand.

Matt Walker is a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Electrosoft, a company that prides itself on the diverse workforce it employs and its ability to meet customer expectations.

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