Want A Competitive Advantage? Hire A Diverse Workforce Businesses spend millions of dollars to create competitive advantages for their products in their markets. However, one important strategy that is often overlooked (and doesn’t require millions of dollars) is intentionally hiring a diverse workforce. Selecting talent for an organization is arguably one of the riskiest business decisions business owners and managers make. Yet, our natural instinct is to hire people who are like us and who we like. Why? Because it makes us feel safe and comfortable. The problem is that safe and comfortable aren’t exactly the best ingredients for building a successful business. Hiring people who don’t look, think, or act like you is risky, but it can be the game changer you’ve been searching for to make your business more competitive. Diversity There are so many things that make people diverse. By definition, diversity is “the condition of having or being composed of different elements” and “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.” In short, diversity is more about inclusion than anything else. Inclusion brings new ideas, thoughtful collaboration, creativity, and, in most cases, competitive advantage. Establishing a diverse workplace is not as easy as it sounds. It requires us to be intentional in seeking talent who are different from us—those with a different culture, different background, different race, or even a different style of thinking. The first step in this process is to really know what you need from a person to bring success to the position you’re hiring for. The second step is to expand your search and intentionally look for talent with diverse backgrounds, gender, culture, race, and thinking style, so you have a diverse candidate pool. The third step is to involve a diverse group of people in the selection process, make sure you all are on the same page for the professional requirements for the position, and establish a process that selects the most qualified candidate who will bring the best perspective for the position. Offer Training and Learning Opportunities Once you start to hire a diverse range of employees and promote diversity in your organization, it’s time to take the next step and provide training and sessions that highlight that diversity. Bring in speakers from different cultures, ethnicities, and industries to share their perspectives. This allows employees to learn and understand where their co-workers are coming from, and can improve the way that employees work together. You can also start an internal committee to put on events that promote diversity and different backgrounds. This gets employees involved directly, and shows that your organization cares about everyone, no matter their ethnicity. At Aureon, we have an internal committee that does just that, and plans regular events to engage employees. Culture Now that we know the business advantages of having a diverse workforce, let’s talk about culture. Hiring people with diverse backgrounds is just the beginning. To really reap the advantages that diversity brings to your business, you have to create an inclusive culture. Remember, you’re hiring top talent, and they don’t need to (or want to) stick around if they don’t feel included, think their opinion matters, or contribute to the success of the organization. First, look to your orientation and onboarding program. Is it inclusive? What is your plan to integrate employees into your culture and your teams? Second, review your policies and processes. How will the employees provide input? What encourages them to present new ideas and challenge the status quo? How ready is your organization for change? Allow your employees to express their ideas and opinions freely, and show that those opinions are valuable and needed. Implement these ideas and promote open communication between employees and management. Another way to foster a positive work culture is to have team-building activities. This lets employees get to know each other outside of the normal work routine, and can lead to improved morale and retention. These activities could include a happy hour outing, holiday parties, or volunteering together. It’s also important to review the things in your organization that an employee is expected to align with and make sure this is clear. It’s good for a company to have a clear set of values and to hire and expect behaviors that align with the company values. It’s okay for companies to define service delivery standards, products, or pricing. Being inclusive is not about losing the identity of your company, it’s about bringing in the top talent who will help you launch that identity in your sales and service model. Finally, engage your employees these three ways: 1. Offer ways for employees to participate. In order to engage employees, they have to be involved and committed. Set up easy ways for employees to be a part of something, whether that’s internal committees, volunteer opportunities, or hosting events. 2. Create opportunities for internal networking. Regularly host office networking events and activities. Employee networking creates a natural and fun environment for employees to get to know each other and learn what each other do, so they can support each other and the organization’s success. It is also a great opportunity for employee recognition. At Aureon, we have monthly internal networking events to foster this type of collaboration and to show our appreciation for the great work our employees do each day. 3. Top talent are always learning, and need to be always learning to be engaged. A key engagement question from Gallup is: “at work, do I have opportunities to learn and grow?” Learning and growing is important to all people. Create formal and informal mentoring programs. Train your managers to be coaches and invest in training (and other professional development) for your employees. Building an inclusive culture with diverse employees is worth the investment. In all businesses and all industries, the talent on your team is a key differentiator in your market. What are you currently doing to improve diversity and culture within your organization? Christy Smith As SVP of Corporate HR for Aureon and SVP of Aureon Staffing, Smith is responsible for developing and implementing world-class strategic and operational human resource systems. These attract and retain the top talent in our industries necessary to ensure that Aureon delivers its service delivery promises to its clients. She has more than 20 years of experience developing and leading HR strategies and systems, yet she joined the Aureon family since 2014. She is a graduate of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, a member of the 2004 Des Moines Business Record 40 Under 40 Class and a member of the Society for Human Resource Professionals. Christy earned a degree in journalism with emphasis in public relations from the University of Kansas. She also received a Juris Doctorate Degree with Honors from Drake University.