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Ron Thomas

StrategyFocusedHR

Vice President

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Blog: Diversity is good for business

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I have watched with amusement these past few weeks the reaction in the sports world to the phenomenon called Jeremy Lin.

Not being much of a sports fan (especially basketball), I had to delve a little deeper than the normal fan. Chinese-American and Harvard-educated does not normally equal star in the NBA — or at least, that would have been the thinking before Lin.
 
But it goes back to show how we humans have certain mindsets, and how we have all painted our own picture of what utopia would look like.
 
We all have the our own diversity equation
 
As I followed this story, I also know that there are numerous Jeremy Lin’s throughout the universe that someone has discounted, told them to forget about their dream, or something similar to that.
 
My wife told me the story that in high school, her guidance counselor told her and her parents that she would be better off in a trade school and should forget about college — never mind that she had stellar grades.
 
I sat on a panel a few months back and heard from one of my fellow panel members about how one of their major accounts told them that would love to see the work units embedded into their account be a little more diverse. This major insurer was a strong believer in diversity and wanted their vendors to mirror that commitment, especially as it related to their account.
 
When the top recruiter relayed this story back to the partners, the mindset was that in no way will we LOWER OUR STANDARDS. They only hired from top-tier schools and would not dare take a look at talent from state universities and other private schools.
 
The mindset was focused on those top-tier colleges and that this is where all the top talent in the universe is. The formula — to them — meant that diversity equals lower standards. I’m appalled at that kind of thinking.
 
Top talent can be found everywhere
 
My brothers and I were first generation college graduates, and my older brother graduated from the Columbia Business School. In first generation households, the thinking is simply to get a college degree and not that it has to be at a top school (or at least, that is the way that it was during my era).
 
My parents never finished high school, but my father was very successful and we lived as well as any Ivy League-bound household. He assured us numerous times that his goal was for all his boys to finish college.
 
At one time, Google only hired the top grads from a few select schools. This changed after they realized that yes, these were the top grads but the motivation level and mindsets are hard to change. When you have heard the constant drum roll of a particular thought level, that becomes embedded in the mind. And trust me, it’s hard to change.
 
Yes, they probably thought that they were the smartest guys in the room, and not only that, but that thinking permeated their being at all levels. That is not a good competency for team effectiveness or organizational culture.
 
Group-think gone mad
 
During interviews, recruiters can also get caught in this thinking. I will never forget passing along a resume of someone that I met at an corporate fund-raising event. When this person came into interview for a junior-level marketing position, I was told by the recruiter that she did not come across as a top performer.
 
Of course, the person who was interviewed had a different take. She felt a dismissive attitude from the recruiter; she now heads one of Google’s top marketing teams.
 
Diversity has nothing to do with skin color; a company today will not be successful over the long haul if everyone is thinking the same. An organization today must be embedded with a diversity of thought from the board room down to the lowest manager level.
 
21st century diversity
 
Marcus Samuelsson is a top chef in the New York City area. I will never forget sitting in the audience as he explained how his restaurants are so successful and that everyone raves about the unique tastes and flavors of his food.
 
Celebrated as one of “The Great Chefs of America” by the Culinary Institute of America, he discovered his passion for cooking at a young age alongside his grandmother. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, he graduated from the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, and he apprenticed in Switzerland, Austria and France before coming to the U.S.
 
He talked about the makeup of his kitchen staff —  from the sous chef and pastry chef to the sauté chef, they are all different nationalities. The unique flavors and tastes of his dishes are the result of bringing together a diverse group of skilled professionals, with each bringing their own background and spices to create flavors and dishes that were virtually unheard of in the annals of food history.
 
Diversity is good for your business as well as for all of our lives. Exposure to different cultures is a rich and rewarding experience. There are only 12 notes in music but that has not hindered classical, R & B, Rock, and Hip-Hop from blending an array of top selections.
 
Publisher Malcolm Forbes once said: "Diversity is the art of thinking independently together." If that’s not part of your philosophy as well, change your formula!
 
 

Ron Thomas is vice president of StrategyFocusedHR.

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Ron Thomas

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