Diversity and business success go hand-in-hand

Jennifer Joe

Editor’s note: This article by Maddy Lauria originally appeared in the May 20, 2021 edition of the Delaware Business Times. It is reprinted with permission.

Diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t just long overdue in the workplace. They’re key to innovation, excellence and the overall success within a business.

“Consider the fact that your organization might only have been doing this for one or two years, definitely less than 10 years. But we have 400 years of a history in this country that perpetuates certain stereotypes, so we have to allow ourselves some space in understanding this,” said Jennifer R. Joe Ph.D., Cohen Family Director of Diversity in the Lerner College of Business at the University of Delaware. “You have to work and be very, very deliberate when you’re trying to encourage perspectives from others.”

Joe joined the Delaware Small Business Development Center and Delaware Business Times on Wednesday, April 19, for a “Diversity at Work Benefits Everyone” webinar that explored what businesses, employers and managers need to understand in order to achieve more diverse and equitable work environments.

She outlined five key ways business leaders can enhance diversity within their organizations while also challenging attendees to examine their own personal biases.

Joe noted the importance of equally considering diversity, equity and inclusion in business strategies such as the recruitment process while emphasizing the importance of how diverse hiring can reach untapped wealths of talent in the workforce.

“Many employees are attracted to a workplace where there is diversity,” she said, noting that consumers are also more diverse than they have been in the past, and younger consumers care deeply about diversity and social justice.

But unless a business is willing to change on an organizational level, such as changing recruiting approaches or workplace culture, enhancing diversity will be almost impossible. And missing out on diversity could mean missing out on business success, as research has shown that businesses with more diverse leaders and workforces are often more profitable and innovative as well.

While diving into detail on those key components, Joe touched on another important challenge by asking participants to list their top five closest contacts, not including members of their family. Then she had people write each person’s profession, gender/identity, race/ethnicity and age to see how diverse that closest group of contacts might be.

Even Joe, who also serves as a Whitney Family Endowed Professor of Accounting at UD, said she noticed a bias in her own close contacts, as she tends to gravitate toward professionals with similar backgrounds. Understanding how bias plays a role, even as unconsciously as influencing who is at the top of a favorites list on a cell phone, can shed light on why a business leader may be having a hard time attracting more diverse employees or customers.

“If we all treat each other as if we are coming from a positive place and a place of grace, then this is positive, positive growth for everyone,” she said. “Are we willing to listen to everyone? We might disagree with their opinion. But listen.”

Did you miss the webinar? Watch it online at delawarebusinesstimes.com/sbdc.

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