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Diversity (Published on MinorityMBAs.com)

When we generally hear of the word diversity, we tend to visualize people of different colors or physical characteristics. But what does diversity really mean? Is a Dutch person more of a “diverse” candidate than an American when both are applying to a job in the U.S.? What does an applicant interpret as diversity when applying to jobs and internships? Companies have created pages highlighting diversity and how it is part of their growth strategy.

Upon a quick browse through Google’s career page, we find Google claiming Diversity is our Business. Everybody’s searching for something different. Just as the very idea of Google depends on diversity, so does delivering the best possible products. Our success hinges on our ability to understand the needs of all 597 million of our users. That’s why we work hard to attract and hire talented individuals of every possible perspective, from all over the world. No matter how you slice it, diversity is our DNA. Upon browsing Nokia’s career page, we find the words, While diversity is one of the key drivers of our business success; it is also at the heart of Nokia’s Values and of the Nokia Way. We expect our employees to respect and encourage the strength that comes from diversity.

So what is in fact diversity? How do companies from different continents view diversity? Then there is the overarching question, is diversity always good?

Diversity is hard to define. The Concise Oxford Dictionary definition of diversity is 1. Being diverse; variety and 2. A different kind; a variety. A dictionary definition seems inadequate here (nor concise) or maybe I have an old edition Dictionary. Thus we ask ourselves and interpret what it means. For me, diversity means different; it means difference in ideas, language, culture and essentially backgrounds. No two people have the same background so essentially everyone is “diverse” in some sense. A person growing up in New York City is not necessarily more diverse than a person growing up in Auburn.

Google, an American company sees diversity as a tool that they can leverage to understand the needs of its 597 million users. It makes business sense to value diversity. Nokia clearly defines diversity. Nokia, a Finnish company states in its Diversity page, our goal is to enable men and women of different cultural or ethnic backgrounds, skills and abilities, lifestyles, generations and perspectives to contribute their best to our success. My interpretation without normative data, tells me that although both multinationals value diversity, a job candidate has a better understanding of diversity at Nokia.

Companies seem to value diversity dearly. They share their love stories with diversity by putting up pages, pictures and videos to showcase its presence in their company. Yet there is a lingering question, how effective is a diverse team? Are companies embracing diversity because it’s the right thing to do or do they really see it as a competitive advantage? If a company only operates in the U.S., does immersing a qualified candidate from India help or hurt the group? For companies which operate globally, it is essential to have employees from different background because it helps localize its offerings or for reverse innovation purposes. For a company that only operates locally and has no plans of going international, it would be interesting to find out if embracing diversity contributes to its growth. It helps to have different ideas brought to the table before a decision is implemented. But if diversity is not managed properly, it can prove to be very costly and detriment the organization’s image.

Do non-American companies have a better understanding of diversity than American based? What are the statistics comparing organizations in the same industry where diversity has helped achieve competitive advantage? Is diversity critical to success only for an organization planning to go international in the long run or is it equally important for small businesses? Are there industries that thrive on diversity while in others it does not really make a difference? These are all interesting questions and as more minorities pursue their MBAs and enter the workforce, they will be at the forefront of all this discussion. Research across companies and industries is needed on how companies have achieved competitive advantage through diversity.

This article is featured under “Advice from Career Coaches and Experts” on MinorityMBAs.com