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It's 2010: did all of the predictions about business case for diversity come true?

Rosalind Cox, Diversity Consultant
Rosalind Cox, Diversity Consultant
R&J Consulting Group

At the end of the 20th century, predictions about the composition of the U.S demographics in 2010 touted that there would be much more racial diversity. The fact that there’s now a Latina sitting on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court and an African-American President is proof positive that the diversity predictions about 2010 came to fruition. Interestingly, at the start of 1900, 1 out of 8 Americans was of a race other than White but by 1999, the proportion was 1 out of 4. The increasing racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population in the 20th century is largely a post-1970 development. From 1980 to 2000, the percentage of minorities increased in every region, and each region’s percentage-point increase was larger in the 1990s than in the 1980s with the number of Hispanic households expected to increase at a faster pace than any other group in the United States.

I also posed the accuracy of 2010 prediction question (as well as other questions) to Troy, Michigan based diversity consultant, Rosalind Cox, principal, R&J Consulting Group. First, let’s clarify “what is diversity”? Well, diversity includes, but it is not limited to human characteristics, such as age, ethnicity, gender, ability, race, and sexual orientation. Moreover, it can include such differences as geographic location, military experience, work history, income, religion, language, organizational role, communication and thinking styles, family status, work style, and education, that is, things that affect an individual’s values and opportunities and perceptions of self and others at work. Ms. Cox is a consultant with over 30 years experience working as a corporate human resources director. The following are comments captured during a recent conversation with Ms. Cox.

In the past 20 years, why did companies feel compelled to develop a business case for diversity?
. First, the composition of the workforce has changed and will continue to change radically during the next decade. In fact, minorities are now the majority in 48 of America’s 100 largest cities. In many parts of the U.S., minority markets are driving total business expansion so serving a diverse customer base has become extremely important. Moreover, the global marketplace increases competition for all companies. Companies are encountering increasing pressure to respond to employees’ quality of life concerns and are realizing the impact of work and family conflicts on productivity, absenteeism amongst other issues. Therefore, diversity continues to be a key trend because a diverse and inclusive culture is a strategic advantage. Let me give you an example, I recently attended an auto show awards ceremony where Hyundai Motor's distributed 1,000 coats to Detroit’s disadvantaged youth and contributed scholarship awards. On Hyundai’s website, the company states that its “commitment to diversity and inclusion is an important reason for our success as one of the fastest growing automotive companies in the world. Our efforts in the United States spans our support of the local communities in which we do business to diversity organizations with a national scope.” Consumers pay attention to how companies demonstrate their commitment to diversity. It’s no surprise that in 2009, the Hyundai brand was ranked 69th, up three notches from 2008, in the 2009 Best Global Brands survey jointly conducted by Interbrand, a leading consultancy in branding, and Business Week, the New York-based global business media organization. This occurred while the average brand value for automotive industries declined by 7.4 percent amid the global economic downturn. Hyundai saw a milder decline of five percent at $4.6 billion, the smallest drop among automobile companies.

Is diversity about representation?
. No, it’s about valuing and respecting the differences employees bring to the table and leveraging those differences into a competitive advantage. However, often companies elect to focus on representation within their diversity initiatives to ensure that groups that have been historically underrepresented are represented according to the rates of availability within the available labor pool.

Why is Affirmative Action usually mentioned in the Business Case for Diversity?
Having a diversity mindset is important, but of equal importance is managing diversity and inclusion. Companies need to be careful not to allow diversity to become a compliance issue. It is important that we understand the connection between affirmative action and managing inclusion. Affirmative action does not mean the establishment of quotas or giving preferential treatment to less qualified candidates because of race, gender, disability or veteran status. What it does mean is that we engage in affirmative efforts to employ and advance in employment those women, minorities, veterans and individuals with disabilities who are qualified and then ensure that they, along with all employees, are given the opportunity to capitalize on their strengths.

Is a diverse organization the same as an “inclusive” one?
. No, just having a diverse workforce will not generate the business results companies need. Diversity is also about creating the inclusive environment that’s respectful, supportive, provides balance and allows employees to flourish and reach their maximum potential. A part of this respectful environment is the ability to have worklife flexibility. The focus-or lack therefore- on worklife integration can positively or negatively impact employee hiring, satisfaction and performance, retention and the overall bottom line.

Can you discuss how diversity contributes to a company’s innovation and productivity?
. A diverse workforce will not foster innovation without a respectful and inclusive work environment. In today’s business climate, in order to compete vigorously, it is critical for companies to build a culture of innovation that leverages diversity in its many dimensions. Companies need to engage the talents and energies of all employees. When employees feel their contributions are valued they work harder, smarter and engage in activities and teamwork that foster ideas that move the company forward. Studies have found that companies that leverage diversity have a significantly higher return on investment. My only caution to companies is not to downsize diversity initiatives in tough economic times. Instead it’s a good time to look at what is working.

Finally, why should businesses start talking about tomorrow today? Well, ideas come and go with ever-increasing rapidity, especially predictions about ensuring competitive success in the coming years. Companies should be discussing now their diversity and inclusion plans for the next decade. You can contact Rosalind Cox at