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Today’s workforce is more diverse in age, gender, experience and culture than ever before. Employees range from recent college grads to older individuals with decades of experience. The 200% increase in remote opportunities following the pandemic has turned “the office” into a global network of multinational but connected workers. In 2023, business leaders are tasked with uniting vastly different and often far-flung individuals under specific, shared goals — an essential component of success for any company hoping to reach its full potential.
Having been a business leader for over 30 years, I understand that managing this dynamic new workforce comes with many challenges. That said, under the right leadership, the vast opportunities of a diverse workforce far outweigh the challenges.
In my experience, driving innovation through diversity boils down to 3 key initiatives:
1. Respect the relative workstyles of each generation as much as possible
Businesses have always been comprised of people of all ages, but given the increasingly rapid technological and cultural shifts of the last few decades, generational differences are arguably more significant than ever. Understanding the varying needs and preferences of various age groups is critical for managing all employees; for instance, younger generations tend to be more connected and engaged when working in groups via high-tech tools, whereas older generations may prefer to work more collaboratively in person and with simpler or more traditional devices. While leaders are looking to hire employees with the adaptive mindsets and complex skillsets of the future, this does not negate the need for the deep experiential knowledge of industry veterans.
However, change can be difficult — especially when a long-standing “status quo” is being disrupted by new voices and procedures. Just as younger employees should be diligently onboarded onto existing teams and systems, older employees should be shown the same patience and understanding when learning new processes — and whenever possible, employees should be given the grace to work in whatever way is most productive for them.
It is no longer about a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to work environment; to drive the best results with cohesion and minimal resistance, leaders must recognize and accommodate generational differences to create a team capable of achieving common objectives while staying true to individual work styles and expertise.
Related: True Innovation Starts With Diversity
2. Cultivate a culture that thrives on differences of perspectives.
The philosophy of true leadership is as simple as human anatomy — we all have two eyes and two ears but only one mouth; managers should listen and observe more than they speak, ensuring that all voices are heard. The objective is to identify key similarities and to take advantage of the differences to arrive at the most innovative solutions.
When managing a diverse workforce, leaders must foster an inclusive company culture that respects individuals for who they are, where they come from, and what they bring to the table. In fact, not only do employees thrive in such inclusive environments, they actually prefer them — 3 out of 4 job-seekers prefer diverse companies and coworkers.
While it’s easy to preach inclusivity in a company’s core values, this mission isn’t authentic until leaders lead by example. Leaders should assess people skills with the same importance as technical skills, seeking out those with an innate desire to learn from and respect others for their differences.
Frequent, open and honest communication is the vehicle for all meaningful change. Leaders should never underestimate the power of employee feedback, which is why they must create spaces where everyone is often encouraged to speak candidly from their perspective. These spaces may take many forms — from company-wide meetings to social events to anonymous surveys — but this constant stream of input and ideas is the lifeblood of any organization.
When employees feel valued and understood, they are more likely to be more open-minded and to think creatively, knowing that their perspectives aren’t just welcome but wanted. Leaders must remember that everyone is capable of asking a question that no one else has necessarily considered, and it is by attempting to answer these questions that true innovation happens.
Related: 3 Ways to Build a Diverse Team of Lifelong Employees
3. Let representation in the workforce diversify your consumers
Not only do diverse companies enjoy 2.5x higher cash flow per employee, but companies with a diverse workforce have a broader and deeper understanding of a wide variety of consumers. To truly understand the needs and preferences of target consumers, companies must employ people who identify with those specific demographics. Without this representation within the workforce, it becomes all too easy for companies to lose touch with their intended audiences, which creates a fatal disconnect when consumer trends shift with the fast-paces of the market.
Of course, this strategy also works in reverse — the more heterogeneous a company becomes, the more idiosyncrasies can be considered. Therefore, when a workforce includes people from many backgrounds, its consumer audience can grow accordingly.
Differences between employees should not be overlooked or undervalued, as the varying perspectives of unique individuals provide a fuller picture of how the industry serves various consumer identities. This growth strategy is especially effective when companies diversify at every level; in fact, multinational diversity in management has been shown to increase annual revenue by 19%, and gender-diverse executive teams consistently outperform their homogeneous competitors.