The call for “diversity” is being heard around the country a lot lately, and women in the workplace are adding their voices. The problems faced by today’s organizations have become so complex that a diverse range of skills and backgrounds is needed to solve them. After all, no one can possibly be good at everything. No two people will ever arrive at exactly the same solution. And there’s an amazing synergy that arises when we join forces with others.
One hazard in these discussions, however, as the New York Times recently wrote, is that the word “diversity” has become both euphemism and cliché. Too often it’s used as a convenient shorthand that gestures towards inclusivity and representation without actually changing anything about the workplace culture. Where women in the workplace are concerned, a culture that includes and respects gender and ethnic and cultural diversity is essential for us to demonstrate our value to our organizations. The ability to collaborate in work groups that welcome every individual is crucial for success in the global economy, and we need women from all walks of life to take the lead in making this happen.
True diversity flowers in a culture of inclusion that embraces and celebrates differences. As I recently read in the Los Angeles Times, “Diversity is a goal worth striving for. It makes companies smarter, it makes them more sensitive to the needs of a diverse customer base, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Of course it’s the right thing to do! Recruiting and retaining a diverse, inclusive group of employees lets your company reflect the world around you and makes your team better able to develop fresh ideas that will meet customer needs. Teams that include workers from different backgrounds and experiences can come up with more creative ideas and methods of solving problems. Harvard Business School professor Roy Y.J. Chua writes that the more a network includes individuals from different cultural backgrounds, the more a group will be exposed to – and creatively stimulated by – different ideas and perspectives.
This happens all the time in groups of women. We are hardwired to connect, to share ideas, to combine resources, and yes, to change the world. When you bring together a diverse group of women, magic happens. We’re influenced by each other’s take on things, and new ideas begin to evolve. We draw from each other’s energy. Something entirely new is born, and it’s often far greater than anything one person could have come up with alone.
Diversity is key when it comes to successful collaboration. A group in which every member has the same background, experience and perspective is unlikely to come up with anything new. The world — and your workplace — are full of all kinds of women and men at all levels of authority with whom you might mesh perfectly. So gather what Gloria Feldt calls your sister courage and reach out. If you want to collaborate with a thought leader or C-suite resident, just ask. I am usually pleasantly surprised by how willing women and men are to share ideas, best practices, advice, and support—even with so-called competitors. And truly, that’s one of the things I love most about working with women from all walks of life – there really is a sisterhood that supersedes making money and getting ahead. Women who have achieved success remember who helped them, and they know how much it means to help their sisters get a leg up.
Over the course of human history, many wise people have observed that we become like the people we spend the most time with. Seek out and work with as many diverse, smart, talented, passionate women as possible. The world needs us! And in order to truly have an impact, we must cherish our differences and support all Leading Women. Together, we have the power to change our lives, our industries, our communities, and our world!