Quick, define corporate diversity. Is it an occasional press release about the ethnic composition of the company’s workforce? Is it a tabulation of key...

by Brenda J. Mullins

2nd Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer
Aflac

Quick, define corporate diversity. Is it an occasional press release about the ethnic composition of the company’s workforce? Is it a tabulation of key demographics – how many women, African Americans or Hispanics work for the company? Sadly, for too many American corporations, diversity breaks down to numbers, when what it really is, is a business strategy.

These benchmarks are important. Over my 24 years at Aflac, I have learned that it is impossible to achieve functional diversity without prioritizing varied backgrounds and experiences. A company that ignores the demographics of the marketplace denies itself the chance to be everything it can be. But diversity can’t end there. Young people coming into the field or those who want to refresh their thinking should consider that diversity is part of the overall equation to maximize business success. It wears many hats, one of which that is often under-considered: generational diversity.
[sws_pullquote_right]”The ultimate goal of diversity – how it should be defined – is not only by the numbers but in how diversity expands the range of thought, which requires more than just conventional thinking.” [/sws_pullquote_right]
In a 2008 study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the U.K. think tank discusses the business case for prioritizing generational diversity, suggesting that it will lead to broader talent pools from which to recruit while increasing creativity and innovation fostered from generational interaction. Further, the risk of not managing this type of diversity can be misunderstandings between members of the workforce, leading to conflict and disengagement.

At my company, we view diversity not only by how our workforce reflects the community but also by how we relate to the way consumers of all backgrounds and generations think. We’ve made a conscious effort to expand our platforms to prioritize issues beyond traditional diversity toward diversity of thought. Whether scouring top universities for candidates of eclectic skill sets or participating in Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a college recruitment program that provides high-potential students with assorted backgrounds to companies interested in expanding their talent pool, our recruiters focus not only on seasoned job-seekers, but also young people, who today bring more immediate relevance to the table than ever before.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, the face of America is changing with the new millennial generation. They are more ethnically and racially diverse, more educated than previous generations and much more likely to engage in various social media as forms of expression than any previous age group. So what does this mean for diversity officers? It means ignore generational diversity and you risk being ignorant of what matters to a large market segment that is more powerful than in previous decades.

Certainly the importance of racial, ethnic and cultural diversity maintains its significance in corporate America, but the ultimate goal of diversity – how it should be defined – is not only by the numbers but in how diversity expands the range of thought, which requires more than just conventional thinking.

Brenda J. Mullins is 2nd Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer at Aflac, the nation’s number one provider of voluntary health care benefits.

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