Diversity is Good Business

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By John Snyder, Grapeshot CEO

As a Brit in America, I’ve been intrigued by the current debate about transgender rights in certain American states like North Carolina.   Major musical artists like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam are boycotting the state for discriminatory practices relating to the “bathroom” law which forces transgender people to attend public restrooms aligned with their birth gender and not their current identity.  

In addition to the reaction from entertainers, many major brand marketers have also made their unhappiness known.   It is gratifying to see this trend.  It’s a telltale sign that companies are increasingly committed to diversity in their marketing target audiences.  It makes sense that brands like Campbells and Frito-Lay are actively pursuing LGBT consumers.  Not only is it morally righteous for reasons of equality and celebrating diversity, but also it’s also smart business as all marketers realize the benefits to their toplines of embracing sexual, gender and racial minorities.

The next big step that has to be taken is to continue the trend towards diversity hiring in the workplaces of these companies.   Hiring practices at big, global corporations are rooted deeply in legacy practices that were instituted decades ago in some cases.  I recognize that ingrained bureaucracy and cultures often adapt slower than the trends in broader society, but we are at an inflection point in our hyperconnected global society where broad social and economic changes are happening at a much quicker pace.  From gay marriage and decriminalization of marijuana in the U.S. to the Arab Spring, broader societal trends have emerged that wouldn’t have been deemed possible in the minds of most people even a decade ago.

America prides itself on a strong immigrant history and independence from religious intolerance and the colonial empires. With some irony I observe the language, ethnic and gender diversity in my own small company of 80 staff, yet observe some business cultures I have interacted with inside America that appear much more overtly homogenous. 

As an entrepreneur, it is important to strive to create a diverse, multi-faceted company culture that becomes a living, breathing quilt of various viewpoints, experiences and expertise. Diversity in hiring and promotion actually leads to economic gain because of the insights and strategies that can surface when you have a range of perspectives.  It’s actually counter-productive and limiting when you surround yourself with people all cut from the same cloth because you’re not creating what I refer to as a 360 degree circle of accountability.  

Debate from disparate viewpoints can spark inspiration that can lead to a better process and product.  That is a hallmark of all great companies, big and small.   The alternative is to remain small-minded and miss out on potentially great contributors because you were threatened by their body piercings or funky wardrobe or unusual accent.  Traditional media has helped perpetuate ingrained, subconscious biases of what make an effective corporate leader or contributor.  It’s time we start opening our minds and giving people a chance to reveal depths of knowledge and expertise that aren’t often readily apparent.

I’m confident that the marketing industry will contribute greatly to the movement for social justice in hiring.  While some loud, divisive voices in the current U.S. presidential campaign are resorting to cynical scare tactics, it is clear that the United States is only becoming more diverse and eclectic in every manner and that efforts to marginalize these emerging subcultures is futile and misguided.  One of the main reasons America is so great is because it was built on diversity.  The diversity train has left the station and there’s no turning back.