Win Through Diversity

I spent most of my early years in a region of the US that has significant minority populations –especially Native Americans and Latinos. I learned early that diversity in the market place requires companies to have employees that look like and think like their markets. That means more diversity – racial, ethnic, gender, and age – in the ranks at every level, but especially of leadership teams and customer-facing staff. It also means that market realities and business imperatives are raising the bar beyond legal requirements to ensure equal opportunity – even in nations that don’t have formal affirmative action programs.

A Fortune article more than a decade ago entitled “50 Best Companies for Asians, Blacks and Hispanics,” (July 19, 1999) named US West one of the top 15 companies in the nation for minority employees. I noted in that article that “We are in a very labor-short environment, and a company that has a reputation as valuing all people does have an advantage.” Shortly after receiving the Fortune honors, Latina Style magazine named US West the best company in the nation for Latina employees.

JoLynne Whiting is a senior executive in marketing with whom I have worked for many years – including senior posts she held at US West and Telstra. JoLynne is a talented and effective executive who has helped me over the years to advance diversity at every level in the business organizations we led. JoLynne once wrote, “As the world becomes flatter, smaller, and smarter, markets are becoming more diverse. Global markets are, by definition, more diverse, but so are domestic markets, as global competition and global migrations reach record levels.”

Affirmative action laws and regulations require US executives to promote diversity. But diversity is not only about laws and regulations. Diversity is also about good business – competing to win in markets that are defined by racial, ethnic, gender, and age diversity. Diversity is also about what is right – such as providing equal opportunity to everyone, to make societies stronger even as we also make our enterprises stronger.

CEOs, senior leaders, and even project managers working in countries that do not have affirmative action requirements would be well advised to develop equal opportunity imperatives to guide decision-making in employee recruitment, training, promotion, and retention. In Australia, for example, there are no affirmative action requirements, but while I was CEO of Telstra we initiated management programs to achieve more diversity in our employee ranks right up to the composition of the senior team, especially in providing opportunities for women and people with Aboriginal backgrounds.