Relocating Employees & Diversity
“Diversity is the art of thinking independently together” – Malcom Forbes
The workplace is a reflection of our larger society. As the demographics of the U.S. shift, diversity will continue to grow in the workplace—encompassing not only race and sex, but also sexual orientation, age, ability status, socioeconomic background, educational level, and personality type. Today, workforce diversity is intended to mean everything from racial diversity to diversity between generations in the workplace.
When I began my career in the relocation industry, I worked with a gay woman of African American and Native American ancestry who was legally blind in one eye. Employees who add to the diversity of an organization may not fit into neat packages. It is a formidable undertaking to reach a stage of workforce diversity where, as Josefa Iloilo, the late president of Fiji, expressed it, “differences and diversity are not seen as sources of division and distrust, but of strength and inspiration.”
Many of today’s leading employers are committed to diversity, and almost half of all organizations have an official mission statement devoted to it. But are those companies considering the value of diversity when relocating an employee or group of employees? This article will explore how the goal of creating a diverse workforce should be a consideration when deciding whom to relocate.
Diversity and Performance
Chances are you’re aware of the reasons why companies relocate employees. Those reasons include the need to address imbalances in the workforce, hiring new employees for a specific location, developing a well-rounded employee to enhance their career path, and correcting errors in selection and placement of an employee. Whatever the reason, the ultimate goal of any relocation is to increase the effectiveness of an organization.
However, there is one reason that is not usually addressed specifically – to relocate an employee in order to effect a more diverse workforce. Although the end result of relocations may result in a more diverse work group, this is not usually an initial consideration for the relocation. Yet, both employee relocation and a more diverse workforce have the potential to increase a company’s performance.
The benefits of a more diverse workgroup have been substantiated in a number of studies. Sangeeta Bharadwaj-Badal, lead scientist for Gallup’s Entrepreneurship and Job Creation initiative, notes that a Gallup study of more than 800 business units from two companies representing two different industries found that gender-diverse business units have better financial outcomes by an average of 57 percent over those dominated by one gender. Gender-diverse work groups achieve better financial performance because different viewpoints of men and women lead to better problem-solving, allowing the company to serve an increasingly diverse customer base, and gender diversity also helps companies attract and retain talented women.
Research supports the benefits of generational diversity as well. For example, an AARP study highlights the fact that this is the first time in American history when four generations are working side by side. An age-neutral workplace supports real communication and understanding across all ages and builds on the unique values and strengths of each generation. Businesses that pay attention to intergenerational issues will see an impact on their bottom line in a number of areas, including recruiting, building teams, dealing with change, motivating, managing, and maintaining and increasing productivity.
Researchers at the Harvard Business School surveyed 250 businesses and found that those with a diverse workforce made 18 to 69 percent more net income or operating revenue. The study also found that 91 percent of companies with a diverse workforce reported greater customer satisfaction. In addition, organizations with diverse executive teams had better sales performance.
According to a 2009 study, “Does Diversity Pay?: Race, Gender, and the Business Case for Diversity,” published in the American Sociological Review, sales revenues are much higher at workplaces that have diversity among employees. The study found that the businesses with the most racial diversity brought in 15 times more in sales revenue than companies with the lowest levels. The average number of customers for the racially diverse companies was 35,000 annually, compared to 22,700 for non-diverse companies.
A company’s business image improves with a diverse workforce because it is appealing to a larger customer base.
Stock performance is likely to be affected by workplace diversity. In a study from Covenant Investment Management, the annualized stock return for Standard and Poor’s 500 Companies with low diversity was an average of 7.9 percent, compared to 18.3 percent for companies that presented the most equal employment opportunities.
Diversity and Thinking
The measured gains in productivity, performance, and customer satisfaction from incorporating a more diverse workforce should come as no surprise when one considers the benefits of workplace diversity. Scott Morgan of Demand Media notes that workers from various cultural and social backgrounds allow for multiple perspectives on internal and external issues and are more likely to generate new ideas. By broadening its reach, a company looking to hire new talent stands a better chance of finding top-quality employees when it recruits from a more diverse set of candidates.
The Center for American Progress states that the U.S. economy – particularly at the entrepreneurial level – rises in tandem with the number of women, minorities, and gay and transgender workers entering the workforce.
Creativity increases when people with different ways of solving difficult problems work together toward a common solution. Colleagues who come from other cultures can offer insightful alternatives Americans might not have considered. This is a tremendous advantage.
New attitudes are brought to the business table by people from diverse cultures.
Job seekers are drawn to companies with diverse workforces because it is evident that the companies do not practice employment discrimination.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, takes the benefits of diversity one step further. In an open letter to Bloomberg Businessweek in October, Cook stated that although he was treated no differently for being gay at Apple, “being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority.” And it has “provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life.”
Researchers call this “two-dimensional diversity.” One dimension is an inherent trait, such as being gay or black. The second is an acquired trait, such as learning to understand different cultures from foreign travel.
Diversity and Challenges
As outlined above, the results of having a diverse workforce are extremely positive. However, working within a group with diverse backgrounds, issues, and interests can be challenging, especially in the beginning stages of the work group and/or assignment. Conflicts can and do occur when people with different needs, viewpoints, and ways of doing things work together. To illustrate this point, consider a hypothetical work group consisting of:
- American male, age 55 – Baby boomer who has difficulty embracing new ways of doing things.
- American female, age 25 – Millennial with a distrust of traditional hierarchies.
- Chinese female, age 40 – Sees punctuality as a virtue; the meeting agenda may not be adhered to.
- Arab male, age 45 – Punctuality is less important; expect delays.
- Brazilian male, age 35 – Personal inquiries are a way to estimate trustworthiness; punctuality is not seen as something that can be controlled.
- Dutch male, age 50 – Reserved and quiet; uncomfortable asking or answering personal questions; punctuality is taken very seriously.
Consider this work group when reviewing the following potentially negative effects of a diverse workforce cited by Gregory Hamel of Demand Media:
Teamwork may be difficult if workers are uncomfortable working with others who have differing social, political, and economic viewpoints. It may be easiest for certain workers to relate to and communicate with others who share similar backgrounds and views.
A diverse workforce can bring a broad range of opinions and ideas to the table, which may be beneficial when brainstorming or troubleshooting problems. But divergent opinions can also lead to unproductive arguments.
Discrimination may arise as workers look for ways to work with others similar to themselves.
A diverse workforce could cause customer service problems if certain workers are uncomfortable with or unable to relate to or communicate with certain customers.
Unique Role of Mobility
Time, a well-defined diversity plan, management awareness, and adequate training should minimize the potentially negative effects of incorporating a diverse workforce. The mobility function has a unique ability and opportunity to increase diversity and business performance by taking into consideration the diversity of the relocating employee(s) and the diversity of the work group of their destination.
Director, Global Business Development