Monday, September 3, 2018

Diversity's the Secret Sauce of a Great Culture

My first boss Herman was a 2nd generation Mexican American.  He ran a tight Jewish bakery counter and his brother Alex managed the kosher deli across the way.

My best boss ever – and I’ve only had a few over a long career I consider truly great – was French and female.  

(My worst boss was also female so please don’t take this as a general endorsement for female leadership, let’s just get better leaders, OK?)

I’ve had bosses from the US, France, India, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Mexico, and Germany.  They all had very different management styles.

One boss called me a ‘penetrante Kuh’ - which means annoying cow - but he was German, so I didn’t take it personally.  In fact, I considered printing it on my business card.

I’ve hired and managed people from Canada, South Africa, Japan, Poland, Singapore, Russia, Finland, Spain, Mexico, Ireland, France, and the US.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Russians, Finns, Japanese, Italians, Canadians, Dutch, French, Irish, British, Spanish, Australians, Iranians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Belgians, Indians, Romanians, Swiss, Scandinavians, and 2nd generation Americans from pretty much every part of the world.

Some were younger, some were older, some were male, some were female, some were fantastic to work with while others were difficult, but they all offered something unique to the mix.

It was the best part about working, to be honest. 

I didn’t like everybody, nor did everyone like me.  That’s not the point.  The point is that they all added colour and flavour to my work experience, as I hope working with me did for them.

Interacting with so many cultures and personalities upped my game and having such a rich mix of colleagues and experiences kept me longer in each role than I might have stayed otherwise.

Diversity matters in ways we can’t measure.  It makes us more resilient, curious, compassionate, and open to new cultures, ideas and experiences.  It tests us and forces us to adapt, compromise and question our assumptions.

If your customer base is diverse, it stands to reason your workforce – in particular, the people who design your solutions or interact with your customers - should be, too.  Also, just to be clear, hiring locals in your non-HQ subsideriaries isn't true diversity.

I don’t think too many people reading this are likely to disagree, since diversity is now accepted as part of a successful business strategy, but I leave you with this food for thought:

A few years back I blogged about a Cornell University study that found once diversity reaches a critical mass of 20-25% at the leadership level the company realizes higher performance.  However, below that level diversity has a negative impact, possibly because everyone regards it as a necessary evil rather than a driver of innovation and business performance.

With that in mind, maybe diversity should be part of your company DNA, rather than an isolated and/or HR-led initiative.  

Just sayin.

*Picture courtesy of Managing Your Elders.

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