A business that truly reflects its customer base reaches the third level of employment diversity

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A business that truly reflects its customer base reaches the third level of employment diversity

By KeleMarie Lyons, for SBT

We talk and hear a lot about diversity. However, have you ever wondered what it would look like to be a truly diverse business community — one where all cultures work together regardless of race or gender?
While the thought might be overwhelming, it behooves us to take a moment and address what a truly diverse business would look like. Here’s a checklist to get you started on the concept. Does your business or organization:
— Acknowledge diversity at all levels of the business?
— Openly embrace employees of different backgrounds?
— Train employees on intercultural communication?
— Accommodate the needs of all employees’ cultural or religious holidays?
— Seek to eliminate cultural barriers including stereotypes and discrimination?
— Deploy its diversity as an "added value" or as an asset in dealing with customers in the "global economy"?
— Target customers of different ethnicity, backgrounds?
— Recruit suppliers of diverse backgrounds?

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At the very fundamental level, we all have God-given attributes, including gender and race. Those attributes naturally make us diverse and give us unique perspectives. History has played a big role in forming the expectations of women and men, as well those of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Caucasians, (etc.).
Today, gender and race "expectations" are constantly being tested. Abiding by the government’s Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action regulations is a must. However, a truly diverse company can rise above those EEO/AA regulations as well as the historical "expectations" to provide opportunities for all individuals, regardless of race or gender.
The second level of diversity entails a commitment by top leadership. It goes beyond race and gender and requires an employer to embrace differences among an individual’s choice of religion, lifestyle, socioeconomic background, learning style, physical appearance and occupation. It is at this level that a company demonstrates its commitment to filling employment positions with the best possible candidate — period.
A business that truly reflects its customer base has taken diversity to the third level. The melting pot we call America is growing increasingly diverse every day, and that would suggest that, as businesses, we are dealing with an increasingly diverse customer base.
The more a company can understand and relate to the background and needs of the people it serves, the more successful the company will be. Therefore, it is important for companies to build a pool of employees that reflects the customer base. At this level, diversity must be an integral part of a company’s strategic plan. A company must look at its customer base and define goals, expectations and measures that will support the desire to provide added value to the customers the company serves.
When a company reaches a point where its demographics reflect those of the community in which it "resides," the firm has achieved the highest level of diversity.
According to Amy Batiste, executive director of the Institute for Diversity Education and Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (IDEAL Milwaukee), that level of diversity is achieved when you have a company: "where a spirit of diversity permeates the organization’s culture; where the leadership pipeline is diverse and advancement decisions promote diversity; where leaders are viewed as advocates for diversity and inclusion beyond the organization within which they work; where the company is recognized as a model among inclusive, high performing organizations."

KeleMarie Lyons isthe founder of Pinnacle XL, a management-consulting company with offices in Milwaukee and Chicago. She can be reached via e-mail at kelemarie@pinnaclexl.com.

Sept. 19, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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