The diversity of diversity
It seems odd to hear business leaders speak about the world becoming a more diverse place. The world has always been diverse, populated by an array of cultures, ethnicities, races, religions and orientations. It only appears more diverse to some because they’ve not had the same level of exposure in the past, whether the result of isolationist policies, exclusionary practices or technological limitations in travel and communications. As we discuss in our recent eBook “The Future of Talent in the Contingent Workforce,” ongoing changes in legislation and technology are breaking down the barriers between nations and people, ushering in a new era of acceptance, globalization, assimilation and unity.
In 1995, the United States was estimated to be 83 percent white, 13 percent black, one percent American Indian, Eskimo and Aleut, and four percent Asian and Pacific Islander. Ten percent of Americans, mostly blacks and whites, were also of Hispanic origin. Nearly one in eleven Americans was foreign born. Today, however, the ethnic and racial composition of the workforce is evolving rapidly -- a trend that will continue to gain speed and shape the nature of tomorrow’s workplaces and talent.
• Immigration is a huge factor in future population density: the government expects 820,000 immigrants to arrive annually in the United States, and two out of three, or about 67 percent, will have reached working age when they land.
• Over the next 35 years, immigration will have contributed to a population increase of 80 million people.
“The share of people of color in the United States is increasing,” the Center for American Progress observes. “More women are entering the labor force, and gay and transgender individuals are making vital contributions to our economy, while being increasingly open about who they are. To that end, businesses that embrace diversity have a more solid footing in the marketplace than others.”
Top performing companies have long realized the benefits of diversity, understanding that the definition of workplace diversity goes well beyond considerations of race, gender and ethnicity. Diversity in the 21st century has expanded to encompass values -- the motivating factors that inspire talent to join a company, embody its organizational visions with passion, strive to make meaningful contributions and reach higher levels of productivity.
A truly diverse workforce cultivates creativity, productivity and innovation by bringing together talent from disparate backgrounds and experiences, who coalesce yet retain their individual identities. Like new the Android advertisement says, in a commercial brimming with diversity, “Be together. Not the same.”
Diversity has long been a hallmark of staffing providers. Back in the 1950s, the “Mad Men” years -- and aptly named, because these were the halcyon days of powerful men in business -- women who had taken unprecedented positions in the workforce to assist with the war effort were expected to return to lives of domesticity. Instead, many signed on to be “Kelly Girls,” a contingent labor program that catered to a minority segment of the workforce and which enjoyed enormous success and popularity.
Today, large companies seeking a more inclusive, multicultural and integrated team of talent turn to staffing professionals for these needs. A 2013 Staffing Industry Analysts survey found that 66 percent of large companies that use staffing services emphasized a focus on diversity firms. “It’s typically the largest companies that are most interested in diversity suppliers,” the research concluded.
Successful businesses have learned that they can rely on diversity to strengthen their operations and bottom-line profits. Diverse talent are paving the foundations of a more robust and unified economy that will flourish for generations to come.
A new generation of diverse talent
Millennials, now one of the most closely watched and influential generations of talent entering the professional ranks, are also the most racially and ethnically diverse group in today’s workforce. A large majority of Millennials, 71 percent, appreciate the influence other cultures exert on the American way of life. That’s nearly 10 percent more than the outgoing Boomer generation.
The varied background of Millennials, coupled with their affinity for diversity, is vital to the success of organizations today. As demographics change, it will be even more imperative and influential in the future.
Globalization contributes to rapid growth in industries, increased outsourcing and a need for multicultural savvy. Where the number of Boomers resulted from high birth rates, the presence of Millennials is fueled by immigration. This is important because the demographics of the nation are shifting to encompass unparalleled levels of diversity.
By 2050, according to estimates, the Hispanic population will grow by 167 percent, with Asians following close behind at 142 percent. The modern workforce will soon mirror a United Colors of Benetton ad more than a trailer for “Mad Men.” Millennials, as progressive global citizens with a fondness for eclectic cultural qualities, will foster acculturation for the companies they serve through much needed language skills, attitudes, experiences and perspectives.
Staffing providers recognize this trend and have launched aggressive sourcing campaigns to capture the interest of this talent. Along the way, they are pioneering new methods for recruiting them, socializing with them, engaging them and placing them in business cultures where they will thrive and innovate. Businesses, historically, have gone where the money is. Staffing professionals have followed the talent. On the roadmap of commerce and trade, an increasingly diverse pool of talent has become the X marking the location of tomorrow’s buried treasure.
The economic benefits of diversity
• Diversity fuels growth. Our share of talent -- along with the unique skills and aptitudes they bring -- significantly increases as greater numbers of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community enter the workforce. Between 1972 and 2012, for example, the number of female professionals grew from 37 percent to 47 percent, which represented 25 percent of the nation’s GDP at the time. By last year, a record 67.5 million women were employed, compared to 69 million men. In fact, women have recovered all the jobs they lost during the recession. Men have not.
• Diverse talent market to diverse demographics. Talent are living marketers. By tapping into the backgrounds and experiences of diverse talent, business are better positioned to market their products and services to a broader demographic of consumers: racial and ethnic minorities, women and customers who are gay or transgender. Growing up online, Millennials have an inherent grasp of the latest and greatest products, and who’s buying them. They constantly pore over social networks, 24-hour news aggregators, blogs, research wikis and pop culture sites. Close to half of them also live in the urban areas where the bulk of commerce occurs. Over 75 percent of the people in developed economies dwell in culturally eclectic urban areas -- a radical change from just a few decades ago when the push was for suburban expansion. These are the stomping grounds of diverse Millennials and most likely their heirs. They have their fingers on the pulse of the target demographics of today and tomorrow.
• A diverse bench of talent is a wider bench. Successful staffing professionals know that to get the best candidates, one must source from the largest pool. By expanding their focus on diverse groups of talent, staffing recruiters are more likely to find the best and brightest candidates, those who possess in-demand skill sets, international experience, multi-lingual capabilities and market insights vital to companies that are transitioning to the global nature of business.
• Diverse businesses have lower attrition. A company that nurtures and promotes diversity is one free of discrimination. As cultural fit, transparency and social responsibility become substantial motivating factors for new generations of talent, an environment that embraces the differences of its workers becomes more appealing. Workplaces that are perceived as exclusionary or hostile tend to experience high turnover rates. Businesses that welcome talent from all walks of life are more likely to retain and attract top performers.
• Diversity is the mother of innovation. Over 85 percent of successful businesses over the past three years, according to Forbes research, say that a diverse workforce is the key to innovation and creativity. When people from different backgrounds and experiences get together, they deliver new ideas, new ways of thinking about performance and service delivery, new methods for solving recurring issues, and new ways of reaching a wider audience.
• Entrepreneurs are diverse. Entrepreneurs in the United States hail from all corners of the world. They are people of all colors, genders and sexual orientations. Many of them are the small business owners of today, and potentially the large business operators of tomorrow. They are job creators, employers and pioneers. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, 22.1 percent of businesses in the nation are owned by people of color. Women own close to 30 percent of all U.S. businesses, with Latina-owned enterprises emerging as the fastest growing in this segment. And data from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce indicate that there are over 1.4 million LGBT entrepreneurs, representing about five percent of all businesses in the country.
You must diversify to grow
We’ve all heard the old business adages: diversify or die; don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Today, that axiom takes on new shades of meaning and truth. Business diversification must incorporate talent, not just product and service offerings or experimental directions in market strategies. New eggs must certainly be placed in the basket, and those eggs should not look the same.
It’s essential today to harness the power of workers from different cultures, genders, backgrounds, orientations and communities. Companies that want to succeed in a business-without-borders world of industry rely on the rising presence of women, people of color, and gay and transgender professionals in the workforce. The global economy is marked by variation, different beliefs and unique desires. To satisfy the needs of an increasingly complex and diverse society of consumers, business must capitalize on talent who understand those needs.
By 2050, if the forecasts hold true, we won’t recognize a racial or ethnic majority in the United States. The diverse talent of today will become the boardroom leaders and CEOs of tomorrow, none of them conforming to a certain image or backstory -- none of them appealing to a single group of consumers. Staffing professionals understood this long ago. As the doors to global communities open, witnessing unprecedented levels of mobility and integration, more employers are reaching out to elite staffing partners who can help them find tomorrow’s diverse talent today.