A Commitment to Change: One Perspective to Diversity in the Workplace

Recently, Karen Braithewaite started a petition asking Mattel, the makers of Barbie, to offer party supplies that feature Barbies of color. She has a daughter of color who would like to have a Barbie-themed birthday party that is representative of her. As of April 10, 2013, Mattel’s response has remained the same with no apparent commitment to change. They said, “It’s very important that Barbie reflects the ethnic and cultural differences of people around the world. We work closely with partners to develop Barbie products such as party supplies, and we will share your feedback with them.” Mattel’s statement regarding cultural differences is profound, although the implication is that Mattel has no control over the decision to entertain Karen’s request. Does your organization have a commitment to change and are they committed to making positive choices regarding diversity? Doing nothing is a choice that’s all too common.

The U.S. workforce is changing and unquestionably becoming more diverse. With this change comes an expectation that companies will adapt by making a commitment to change and offer consumers more diverse product choices. After all, the change in the workforce also brings a change in buying power! According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of June 2012, people of color made up 36% of the labor force with 12% being African American. Furthermore, Census data tells us that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country. A 2012 McKinsey Quarterly report revealed that corporations with more diverse senior management teams had a 53 percent higher return on equity. However, across the board people of color are still grossly underrepresented within leadership positions in corporate America. This is a clear case for inclusion, in product offerings and leadership.

I was consulting with a client who shared an upcoming workshop with me during a team meeting. It was an impressive display that had been delivered several times. With the exception of me, the meeting participants were all white; however, I was the only one to notice and comment that there was no multicultural indication in the presentation. I pointed out to my client that the presentation, as well as their website, was absent of anyone of color and suggested that they consider the implications that come with such exclusion. It was immediately clear to me that my client saw the benefit of an African American’s perspective and business acumen. Unlike Mattel, they acted quickly by updating the presentation as well as the website with more culturally balanced visuals. That’s what a commitment to change looks like! 

According to the Center for Talent Innovation “Vaulting the Color Bar: New Study Finds Why Multicultural Talent Aren’t Making it to the Top of Corporate America”:

  • Minorities or people of color (including African Americans) make up 33% of the country’s population
  • Yet, they only account for 13% of board seats in Fortune 500 companies
  • Only 16 people of color currently hold chief executive positions in Fortune 500 companies (Diversity Inc.com)

Why is diversity in the workplace important? A shortage of minority talent in the C-Suite means that consumers aren’t benefiting from innovations and products tailored to their needs. Perhaps Mattel has a different strategy.

Diversity and talent management are critical issues. Even more important is ensuring that your leaders have the skills to develop, attract and retain great talent, including the rich talent pool of people of color.  Starter questions that will help you self-assess:

  1. Does your organization foster a commitment to change?
  2. Does the diversity of your leaders represent the market you serve (internally and externally)?
  3. How does your organization empower diversity through leadership?

When defining diversity, most people consider visible demographic characteristics such as age, sex, ethnicity and race. In this article, I have focused on race; however, diversity also includes education, work experience, learning style, religion, personality type, work style, etc. Some organizations believe that tolerance is the answer to successful diversity.  I challenge you to be accepting, inclusive and curious as opposed to just tolerant of someone not just like you.

In an effort to support our global economy, businesses should make a commitment to discover, embrace and take advantage of the benefits of diversity, always considering the customers they serve. Our economy and nation rely on it and workers and consumers deserve it!