Enhancing competitiveness with Diversity & Inclusion practices

By Riitta Saastamoinen

Mr. Elmer Dixon on board

’Diversity & Inclusion. Working to enhance the competitiveness of Finnish businesses’ was the topic of a two-day JAMK Center for Competitiveness seminar on November 12-13, 2012. Three seasoned international experts of Diversity & Inclusion, Dr. George Simons, Mr. Elmer Dixon and Ms. Joy Hawkins, discussed the need for, benefits of and best practices in diversity management at work places.

Mr. Matti Hirsilä, the Head of the JAMK Global Business Management Department, opened the seminar by pointing out how competitiveness of businesses has in past been mainly approached as cost cutting, but in the future competitiveness enhancing will depend significantly on how the companies can create something new and be innovative. Diversity & Inclusion strategies and practices have a major role in this, as like Mr. Dixon later pointed out, “Diversity and global literacy enhance the quality of problem solving, decision making, and innovation.” If the managers and employees have good cultural competence, the continuously increasing diversity of the customers, markets and workforce becomes an asset.

Diversity, as introduced by Ms. Hawkins, refers to the “unique characteristics or differences that each of us have”, like gender, age, race or ethnic background, personality, educational background or parental status. At work places people also differ due to the factors like job function, work location, or seniority in the company. Inclusion means the active ways to prevent exclusion: understanding diversity as strength, encouraging everybody’s involvement, and providing people with equal access to opportunities and information.

If the diversity factors are not treated with awareness and sensitivity, this may lead to exclusion or discrimination. Ms. Hawkins illustrated this with an example of how a work team may be used to going for a drink in a bar after the work hours, but some colleagues may not be able to join because of their religious beliefs or their life situation, like having to fetch the children from the kinder garden straight after work. If this is the only way for the team to socialize, some people will be excluded from the relationship building and informal knowledge exchange that can be beneficial, e.g., for job advancement.

The benefit of Diversity & Inclusion approach for a company is that when people feel included, they are willing to stay in the organization, to promote it and to do one’s best for the organization, though improving the company’s productivity. Effective management of diversity will also cut costs because it, among others, helps to attract top talent, reduces turnover and develops the potential of all employees.

Mr. Dixon gave practical examples of several global best practices for Diversity & Inclusion, like

  • having CEO commitment first,
  • providing ongoing communication that includes diversity,
  • rewarding effective diversity management, and
  • providing ongoing training for managers and employees on awareness of diversity and skills for inclusion.

The seminar participants contributed to the topic by offering examples of the best Diversity & Inclusion practices in Finland.

As a whole, the seminar conveyed a message that the actions for including diversity do not need to be something big, difficult or expensive. The most important is the change of attitude, like one seminar participant commented: “Now I see how I may have unintentionally excluded people”. Companies can profit from the diversity, if managers and employees actively search for and remove the practices or policies that unintentionally exclude some people and lead to those people not being able or willing to do their best for the company.

Dr. George Simons, living in France for many years, has been a global consultant and trainer in the diversity field since 1966. His work has focused on workplace diversity, gender competence for men, intercultural communication, negotiation and global teamwork. He authored and edited the book “Eurodiversity: A Business Guide for Managing Difference.”

Mr. Elmer Dixon is President of Executive Diversity Services in Seattle, Washington, USA. He designs practical, innovative solutions that increase the cultural competency of an organization and its executives, managers and employees. The topics include, among others, strategic diversity management, cross-cultural competence and team development.

Ms. Joy Hawkins is an associate of Executive Diversity Services and President of Joy Hawkins & Associates in Los Angeles, California, USA. She provides a range of consulting and training services to corporate and public sector clients, specializing in organizational development, change management, team effectiveness, diversity processes, strategic planning, and coaching for executives, managers and key staff.