Lessons from Silicon Valley & Charlottesville: Why we still need Diversity Requirements in the Workplace

Lessons from Silicon Valley & CharlottesvilleIn the 1960’s my father left his civil service job at the State of NJ DOL, to pursue a career in the private sector. Having achieved a Masters in Labor Relations / Business Psychology, he followed the money and prestige to Wall Street. What he found broke his heart.

He took a position as Personnel Director (Human Resources in the 60s) with one of the country’s largest investment banks, only to be told that hiring for the positions of financial adviser, trader or salesperson was restricted to white, Anglo men. Specifically, there was a hard and fast rule that he could not hire any Irish, Italians, Polish, Blacks or Jews for client-facing positions.

My father was a first generation American of an Irish father and Polish mother. When he relayed this story to me in the 1980s, I asked how he wrapped his head around that and why he thought a company would have such a specific hiring rule—never mind how bigoted and short-sighted it appeared to me twenty years later. His answers … he did what he was told, they could get away with it, and the company leaders simply thought that the representatives in these roles should reflect the faces of their clients.

Thankfully, the world and the workplace are changing. Today, many companies post their diversity programs and commitment to equal opportunity on their websites—espousing their understanding of how diversity improves innovation and business performance by introducing a complexity of ideas and ideals through an expanded the talent pool. These programs underscore how their work communities need to reflect the communities in which these businesses operate.

When done properly, Equal Opportunity is NOT a zero-sum game—when one person achieves and does well at work, the company does better and improved business performance is collective. But based on the headlines that have assaulted our sensibilities in the last few weeks—from outright misogynistic cultures in Silicon Valley to the hate and senseless violence demonstrated in Charlottesville—it clearly still needs to be policy. And it most absolutely needs to be resoundingly promoted by corporate leadership—from the rooftops!

But let’s go back to my Dad’s story and the premise that a company’s culture should reflect that of its clients. That’s actually a great idea if your view of the marketplace is realistic. Because today, the power to buy, and to choose where to buy, rests in the hands of a wide assortment of humans.

If you are a business owner or leader dead set on narrowing your employee pool by allowing it to be dominated by a single ethnic group or gender … and you cannot wrap your head around how creating a diverse, inclusive workforce that respects and rewards the contributions of all employees regardless of gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religion, age or disability will improve your company in so many ways … then how far do you think that will take you in America today? I guarantee that your market share will shrink to reflect your policies.

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But, if you get it and you believe in a diverse, open and fair workplace, then please make it a key part of your business policies and vision. Make sure that your leadership team is onboard, that the buying public knows this is part of your business culture and no one has to guess where you stand.

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