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What I Learned About Diversity That America Should, Too

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 3/7/2017

Being open to diverse people and opinions has allowed me to grow as a person, and as an entrepreneur. How can we show the importance of diversity to others?

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    Living in San Francisco, I’m surrounded by people of different cultures and ethnicities. With locations in the Bay Area, New York City, and in the Czech Republic, our company’s 75 team members hail from all over the world — this includes people who are Czech, Taiwanese, Russian, Israeli, and American, to name a few. Being inclusive of varied viewpoints is how people grow personally and professionally, and it’s a core principle of my life at home and at work.

    But recent events have shown that not everyone understands the importance of diversity. Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigrants from seven Muslim countries is not only an abhorrent slap in the face to American values, but it also puts business innovation at risk. 

    Executives at companies as big as Google and Apple are concerned about the effect the measure will have on employees. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said it affects at least 187 of his company's workers. Not to mention that my daughter, adopted internationally 10 years ago, asked me whether this means that she will have to leave her home just because she wasn’t born here. Eighty-five percent of companies recognize that diversity drives innovation. Too often, however, they dilute the concept through quotas and other impersonal but well-intentioned strategies.

    I’ve learned that you can’t harness the power of diversity unless it’s a living, breathing part of your company’s culture. Differences are just as important to celebrate as commonalities; our employees’ different backgrounds have changed how we analyze data trends by providing insights into how people around the world think. By organically recruiting people who represent a variety of views and experiences and who are natural organizational fits, you can cultivate diversity and creativity.

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    Promote Diversity Through Cross-Collaboration

    My company analyzes consumer data from around the globe, so developing a multicultural team was a no-brainer. But we don’t have strict guidelines or quotas for structuring our teams. If someone brings the right skill set and attitude, we want her to work for us.

    We also want our employees to work together. Instead of siloing departments, we encourage cross-team collaboration. The mutual respect that results from interaction makes it easier for employees to work through conflicts instead of needing managers to mediate. And once employees have a group objective, they get over potential conflicts quickly and get the job done.

    Instituting employee task forces to tackle projects, human resource issues, office needs, off-site team building, and more allows team members from diverse backgrounds to learn from one another’s experiences. We've also tested an office seating chart that mixed the departments together. While the downside was that teams weren’t sitting together, it threw together people who don’t normally interact. Our company gained a greater collective understanding from getting to know co-workers with different backgrounds and skills. The best ideas come from employees who are open-minded and eager to expand their understandings of the world, which means the idea for your next great product or launch will come from cross-collaborative teams.

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    Invite Different Cultures Into the Workplace

    Resist the urge to homogenize your team for the sake of preserving the cultural status quo. Our company wouldn’t have made it through even one year if we hadn’t embraced our team’s international members. Sure, everyone should stand behind the company’s mission. But celebrating people’s differences is important and can even bring team members closer. A recent study shows that 65 percent of companies planned end-of-year holiday parties, but we bring employees together by celebrating all their traditional holidays including Diwali, Rosh Hashana, and Easter. Everyone enjoys the chance to learn more about these important days and how the food they’re enjoying fits into these traditions.

    A few times a week, we have company lunches (which have options for every dietary need, from vegan to vegetarian to Kosher to gluten-free) where large groups gather organically around our office’s couches to chat. We don’t force it, but we created a space where people feel comfortable coming together. This not only improves workplace culture, but studies also show that team lunches boost productivity. A 2015 study revealed that firefighters who have meals as a team are more effective than those who regularly eat alone.

    When everyone feels respected and included, they push themselves to achieve more, and they inspire their teammates to reach higher and share more of their true personalities.

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    Create a Safe, Inclusive Work Environment

    Even the most harmonious teams encounter conflicts. While cross-collaborative structures prevent most problems from escalating, third-party input is necessary from time to time. Implement an open-door policy, and make sure senior managers and HR associates follow through. Employees are more likely to address issues head-on if they know they’ll be supported.

    Let your team know that it’s safe to speak up. A zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate or disrespectful behavior reassures employees that they can stand up for themselves and their colleagues without fear of professional fallout. LinkedIn’s Senior Vice President of Global Talent Organization Pat Wadors notes, “If you don’t feel like you truly belong and you can’t speak your mind or feel safe, then you won’t unlock that diversity of thought, which is really what drives innovation."

    Most importantly, practice diversity in all aspects of the company. If you’re hiring a wide range of people, those demographics should be represented in every meeting and management level. Including diverse voices in key decisions ensures that all viewpoints are heard and that people of all backgrounds feel safe to speak their minds.

    True diversity isn’t about quotas or other calculated strategies; it’s about inviting people with varied perspectives to be a part of your mission and then making them feel welcome and empowered. Diversity should occur organically as you bring together people of different backgrounds but similar values to do something great.

    About the Author: Deren Baker is the CEO of Jumpshot, a San Francisco-based startup that offers marketing analytics solutions tailored for the travel, retail, media, financial, and e-commerce industries. He previously held senior roles at Travelocity and Switchfly.