Thursday, April 27, 2017

Diversity and Leadership

             Globalization, societal evolution and data-based demographic trends all point towards an undeniable fact: our workplaces, schools and communities are populated by an increasingly diverse group of people. The United States’ Census Bureau tells us that “By 2044…more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group” (Colby and Ortman, p. 1), and the Department of Labor projects that women “will account for 51 percent of the increase in total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018” (Employment and Earnings, 2011). This essay will establish that the increase in diversity carries distinct benefits, but the realization of these benefits depends on policies which support inclusion, increased avenues for participation, and the proliferation of opportunity. We must reconcile the demographic reality with economic realities. Minority groups still face significant barriers to employment, despite the fact that they will comprise more than half of the U.S. population by 2044, and women must contend with an unfair and outdated wage regime. The 78 Cents Project uses data from the American Community Survey to demonstrate the extent of the wage gap. The discrepancy persists across workforce sectors: women who work in retail earn 70 cents to the average dollar earned by males in that industry, and female lawyers earn 83 cents to the dollar earned by their male counterparts (78 Cents Project). The statistics revealing the wage gap for minority women encapsulates the diversity challenge: black women are paid 64 cents, and Latina women are paid 56 cents, compared to the average dollar earned by white males (78 Cents Project). The economic implications of an increase in diversity, coupled with unfair and wage rates, are staggering. If nothing is done to address this discrepancy, we will march forward underpaying an increasingly large segment of the workforce. We must do more to include, fairly compensate, and support diverse populations, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because our economic well-being hangs in the balance.
            In Building a Case for Diversity, Gail Robinson and Kathleen Dechant posit that business leaders can view the increase in diversity as a real opportunity. Initiatives to support diversity, in their view, can be “an optimal tool for increasing their resources…and creating a conducive working atmosphere for workers” (Robinson and Dechant, p. 228). They recognize that changing demographics is an unescapable reality which effective businesses will target as an opportunity. Business growth can be achieved by embracing diversity, through “increased marketplace understanding, greater creativity, higher quality team problem-solving, improved leadership effectiveness, and better global relations” (Robinson and Dechant, p. 232). How can diversity contribute to improvements in these areas? Take problem-solving, for example: a diverse workforce contemplating a solution to a given problem can draw upon “a variety of perspectives based on a range of experiences” (Robinson and Dechant, p. 234), eventually producing a solution which is more applicable to a larger group of people.
            David Thomas and Robin Ely see the diversity question as a paradigm shift which must be explicitly dealt with. They offer the case of the public-interest law firm, Dewey & Levin, as an organization which embraced a strategy to hire, and fully incorporate, diverse workforce members to improve the quality of its work. Thomas and Ely establish eight pre-conditions for making a paradigm-shift towards an integrated, diverse workforce, and organizational culture features prominently on this list (Thomas and Ely, p. 221). Dewey & Levin’s organizational culture fit the bill, and its employees felt that “their perspectives are heard with a kind of openness and interest they have never experienced before in a work setting” (Thomas and Ely, p. 220).

            The benefits of a diverse workforce cannot be realized if minority groups’ access to education, employment and other opportunities to grow one’s human capital is restricted. Nor can they be realized if workers feel that they are just there as “window dressing”, and that their opinions and ideas are not being considered. To maximize the potential benefits of an increasingly diverse society, leaders must pursue policies which support wage equalization and incentivize diversity hiring (such as affirmative action) are crucial.


Colby, Sandra, Ortman, Jennifer. Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060. U.S. Census Bureau: March 2015. 

Cook, Khary. Employment and Earnings. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: January 2011. 

78 Cents Project Berkley, CA. 

Robinson, Gail, Dechant, Kathleen. Building A Business Case For Diversity. Academy of Management Executive, 1997.

Thomas, David, Ely, Robin. Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation: 1996.