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Diversity Programs and Leadership

by Jared Newnam
September 1, 2011

As global competition increases, diversity has become an important issue for the business community. Many businesses not only understand the value of a diverse staff, but also having diverse leaders.

Diversity in the workplace allows companies to attract a broad range of talent and tap into emerging markets, while also establishing good corporate governance policies.

Having different perspectives will be critical to an organization’s survival and growth. Because of this, leaders are asked to embrace and understand the concept of workplace diversity. Leaders especially will be expected to have a solid understanding of leading a diverse workforce to be effective in positioning their organizations for future business opportunities.

Businesses are responding to the needs of global customers, suppliers, and competitors by creating workforces with many different backgrounds, perspectives, skill sets, and tastes.

Dan Novak, assistant professor of Leadership at South University Online, says a way to approach diversity can be to consider that we all have different worldviews. Diversity encompasses those qualities that are different from our own and outside the groups in which we belong, but present in other individuals and groups.

“When we talk about diversity, it is not just gender and race,” he says. “We talk about the synergy you get when you have people of different views.”

Diversity in the workplace can offer many benefits, according to Andrés Tapia, president of Diversity Best Practices, a diversity and inclusion think tank and consultancy. One of the benefits is a wider talent pool.

“We need the diversity of talent in the workplace so internally we have assets to understand the diversity of those we are selling our products and services to,” Tapia says.


The trend is to embed cross-cultural competence in leadership models.


Another benefit is greater knowledge sharing. Employees can share cultural traits and help their companies develop robust knowledge management and market intelligence systems.

“It is not just about accommodating people,” Novak says. “We started by playing catch-up and let’s appreciate and take advantage of those differences people bring to the table. It is more about respect for people as individuals.”

Diversity training addresses broad issues regarding work environment and individual beliefs.

“Diversity training is about recognizing there are differences and being open and honest with each other,” Novak says.

Diversity programs within organizations include awareness training and leadership development for members of groups who are underrepresented in top positions in the organization.

Leadership Mentoring

In addition to providing technical training, part of leadership development is mentorship, and now sponsorship.

“A mentor advises the mentee about how to progress,” Tapia says. “With sponsorship, sponsors are actually advocates for the talent and help pave the way for them. Sponsorship is a very important trend.”

More companies are also starting to implement rotational assignments that allow executives to temporarily move into other positions to gain exposure into multiple functions and aspects of their businesses.

"Part of what has kept women and minorities from advancing is they are not experienced in the skills needed to move up in their companies,” Tapia says. “One way to remedy that is to create assignments so they get the experience they need and increase their chances for promotions.”

Leadership Diversity Programs

The international shipping company UPS, has shown it is committed to diversity through its Women’s Leadership Development and Diversity Leadership Development programs. The Women’s Leadership Development program is designed to improve the retention of women at supervisor and manager levels; develop women on the management team; and position UPS for future business growth opportunities with women entrepreneurs. The program features sessions about life-work issues that encourage open dialogue, support, and informal mentoring.

Diversity Leadership Programs

Based on the success of the Women’s Leadership Diversity program, UPS launched a Diversity Leadership Development program in 2010 as a management development program to help attract, retain, and develop diverse employees.

Both programs offer opportunities for both men and women to develop leadership skills and connect personally, professionally, and in their communities. The volunteer service and community involvement component of the programs help keep UPS in touch with the interests and needs of its customers, according to Ronna Charles Branch, a spokesperson for UPS.

“UPS works with community and advocacy organizations including the National Urban League and the National Council of La Raza,” she says. “I think these programs challenge organizations to do better by their communities.

“Many of these partnerships came about because our employees are members of the organizations we work with; they bring them to us and we form an even greater connection with our employees,” she adds.

As the face of leadership diversifies in the U.S., so will what it means to be an effective leader, says Tapia.

“The trend is to embed cross-cultural competence in leadership models,” he says. “We are starting to see and encourage diversity savviness and a global mindset, not only as part of diversity training, but what is needed to be a great leader.”

by Jared Newnam
September 1, 2011
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