Organizational Development and Learning Consultant, Chetan Borkhetaria is our newest and latest guest blogger to focus on diversity and the value that it brings to an organization.

What’s the Value of Diversity?

Of course, we can all agree that having people from different races and genders is supposed to be a good thing. Isn’t that what companies on the diversity bandwagon are after?  But why is there such a focus on only race and gender?

Is it the easiest, or just the most salient? And if difference is a good thing, then how do you (or rather we) explain why these diversity initiatives often fizzle out, defy a positive ROI, or even worse – are the cause of interpersonal conflict and tension at work?

I believe it’s because we don’t understand the true value of diversity. Think for a moment about how we define diversity – it’s about all the ways we’re different. So is difference good or bad? Well, difference must be good because diversity is good. But wait! Do you really like difference? If you’re a meat and potatoes person, do you really want to eat sushi? If you’re a PC person, do you even want to think about using a Mac? No!! Generally, human beings don’t like difference. It’s work to deal with difference. So then why is it valuable?

If you can deal with difference and be comfortable with it, then you’re more competent, whether you’re an individual or an organization. Imagine you’re a CEO planning to enter a new market. Would you rather have one unchallenged idea, or multiple (diverse) perspectives that take into account the pros and cons of all the strategies? Sure it’s more work to think through all the pros and cons, but isn’t it worth it in the end? Difference becomes valuable when we can deal with the differences and they no longer scare us. Once we can work a PC and a Mac, we are that much more adept. Once we’ve considered all the strengths and flaws of our plan, we are more successful. Once race, gender, age, etc. are non-issues and no longer scare or distract us, we are more capable – and most importantly, we’re free to seek out additional differences to diversify our information base.

Now let’s take this a step further. What if an entire organization was made up of people who not only appreciated, but sought out diverse opinions? The CEO would consistently ask the senior leadership team their advice even though they saw things differently or disagreed with the CEO; the mailroom staff member would be invited to offer reactions to the new product prototype; the manager who says “we’ve always done it this way” would instead ask about what ideas we have to make it better.

To appreciate diversity, the question becomes how do we get ourselves to the point where we:

  1. Are comfortable with difference.
  2. Seek out difference.
  3. Know what to do with it when we find it.