It’s the elephant in the room. It’s the monster in the closet. It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the boardroom, or the hot potato among executives. What is this absolutely terrifying topic?

One word: diversity.

Did I just see you shift uncomfortably in your seat?

While diversity can transform an organization, the truth is that most professionals fail to understand its purpose and meaning. In our politically correct society, most executives believe that a few quotas will do the trick. I’m sure you’re familiar with this attitude: if an organization hires a few minorities (albeit in low level positions), all accusations of racism will be avoided, right? That might be true, but it completely misses the point.

In today’s workplace, executives are facing three main issues within the realm of diversity and inclusion:

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Fear of True Diversity

While most organizations have accepted the prospect of hiring minorities and women, many still fail to acknowledge diversity within and between such groups. Diversity of thought, lifestyle, experience, socioeconomic status, background, and origin allow companies to take advantage of different viewpoints and problem-solving tactics. An African American woman and a white man might actually possess more in common than two Asian-American men in this regard. Organizations must remember that the human experience is not limited by race and gender.

Problem with Quotas:

The original intent behind workplace quotas was quite positive: it forced organizations to include minority groups in a traditionally inaccessible arena. However, one cannot ignore their fatal flaws. Once organizations meet their minimum numbers, they have little incentive to hire any more minorities. Minorities with higher qualifications might be passed over if the number has been reached, while minorities with lower qualifications might be used just to hit the minimum number. That hardly seems fair to those coming in post-quota!

Political Correctness: 

Let’s be honest: the issue of diversity is awkward. Thanks to our politically issues are suppressed, problems continue to evolve, and animosity continues to thrive. This causes diversity to become an even more sensitive subject, and the cycle continues. Thanks a lot, political correctness!

 

What can we do to counteract these negative outcomes and focus on the positive aspects of diversity? How can organizations use diversity to jumpstart their success?

 

Not About the Numbers:

Once an organization truly understands the benefits of diversity, there will no longer be a need to constantly count the minorities in the workforce. A company that values diversity of thought, experience, background, socioeconomic status, and values will naturally see a growth in external diversity, even without quotas in place. Diversity is not about numbers and requirements; it is about an attitude of inclusion and respect for others.

An Honest Look:

Rather than burying our heads in the sand and pretending that diversity isn’t an issue, it’s time that we are all honest. Workplace inclusion is not only a moral obligation, but it affects the bottom line (see Recruiting for Diversity). It is the executive’s duty to ensure that inclusion is discussed appropriately and carried out.

Celebrate Diversity:

Do I have to be the one to tell you that we are not all the same? Take off your blinders and celebrate the fact that we all look, act, speak, think, and hold ourselves differently. Acknowledging this fact is not wrong – in fact, how will we ever learn from each other if we cannot acknowledge our differences? Maybe the adage “diversity is beautiful” is a cliché for a reason.

It’s time to let out this monster in the closet, to acknowledge this elephant in the room. Executives, are you willing to grab the bull by the horns and take this issue to task?

Get comfortable with the idea. Take a deep breath.

Now say it with me three times: diversity, diversity, diversity.