Thursday, August 10, 2006

Encourage Diversity to attract top talent


In my previous articles I had written on the importance of diversity in an organization, how diversity in top leadership is beneficial and how to convert diverse teams into a high performance teams. In addition to these benefits, there is another benefit of encouraging diversity - The ability to attract high quality talent.



Universities have embraced diversity

To understand this concept - take a look at any top ranked University, either in USA, UK, Canada and even in India. One would find that a substantial number of students who belong to ethnic/cultural minority groups. For example, at University of Texas at Austin, more than 70% of the students are Asians. At Red McCombs School of business, about 50% of students are Asians. In Cambridge University, about 60% of the engineering students are non-Caucasian (Asians & African). In Indian universities too there is a high level of regional diversity and the percentage of foreign students is growing. At Symbiosis Institute in Pune, more than 30% of students are from outside India.

All this means that the future work force will be diverse - and to attract the top quality talent, firms need to advertise their current workforce diversity. For example:

"Chantelle Streete hopes to find a finance job after she obtains her master's in business administration at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia next spring. As an African-American and co-president of the Wharton Women in Business club, she says, it is important to her that her future employer is committed to diversity." - From http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu.

People like Streete are not alone. Most women and people from culturally minority group are making diversity as an important element in their job searches. I remember that when I was a student at Texas A&M university, Students from India were reluctant to join USAA - an Insurance giant, the company had a reputation of being a "Red Neck" organization. This automatically meant that USAA cannot hire the best students.

Companies Thrive in Diversity

Most of the large MNC’s have understood the need for diversity. Companies in Silicon Valley are probably the most culturally diverse. And that may be one of the reasons why Silicon Valley continues to thrive and weather the economic downturn.

Most of the Fortune-100 firms today have become culturally diverse - and they also advertise their diversity in subtle ways: Images in their web pages, having diversity in their top leadership, having culturally diverse people as company spokesmen, publishing survey reports on their cultural diversity, and prominently displaying that the company is an equal opportunity employer.

Accenture provides a very good example of this subtle messaging. Accenture uses Tiger Woods in all its advertisements - thus sending a subtle message of cultural diversity in their organization.

Implications to Indian Firms

Being an Indian citizen and having worked in India, I want to share my thoughts on this subject.

India has become a part of the global economy. Indian firms are now competing globally - and few firms have become truly global. And in the process - Indian firms are slowly becoming diverse. The best examples of cultural diversity in Indian organizations can be seen in the IT sector. Infosys, TCS and Wipro are actively recruiting foreign nationals. Indian aviation industry has more number of foreign pilots than Indian pilots. Even some of the family owned businesses are slowly getting on to this bandwagon. A recent report from the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows that there are about 37,000 Britishers working in India.

Despite all the high profile news of hiring from foreign universities; hiring foreign nationals, Indian business organizations have not yet whole heartedly embraced the need for cultural diversity. A vast majority of Indian firms (I guess about >99% of the Indian firms) are cultural mono types. They hire people from the same background - usually the same religion, religious subgroups (castes), and those who speak the language.

Not having a culturally diverse workforce will create a serious handicap for Indian companies when they plan to expand overseas - or even when they have to compete with foreign imports or MNCs. For example, at an Indian IT major which provides services to British Telecom - the entire marketing team consists of only Indians! I was surprised that there is not even one Britisher in the marketing team - and they are selling IT services to a British firm. This implies that the Indian IT company is working with a serious competitive disadvantage - when compared to Accenture, where the marketing is handled by a mixed team of British, Spanish, Indian and American nationals.

The only way to overcome this disadvantage is to have a proactive diversity policy based on meritocracy. This will ensure that the best talent is hired and makes it comfortable for people from different cultural background to work in that company.

Closing Thoughts

In a "flat-world", the organization must be just as culturally diverse as the market it serves. Only then the company can compete effectively on a global scale and succeed. This implies that the cultural distribution within the company.

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1 comment:

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