President Obama Focuses on Diversity to Win Re-Election
As a nation we reached a diversity tipping point in November 2012 when President Obama won re-election. The President and his staff actively targeted their outreach efforts to a selection of voters with the belief that the diversity in the US matters and that the issues important to women, immigrants, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Gay and young voters were significant enough to win the President his re-election. These efforts and beleifs paid off in Obama’s victory, but what does this victory teach corporate America about diversity?
In the end President Obama garnered 93% of the black vote, 71% of the Hispanic vote, 73% of the Asian vote, 90% of gay voters, 41% of women voting and 60% of voters under the age of 30. The numbers reflect what was necessary to win, a majority of the votes from minority groups in the United States. Obama’s strategy allowed him to beat Romney, as Romney failed to understand the collective power of the diverse groups in the United States. Certainly Obama’s ability to attract a large number of diverse voters helped deliver him a second victory, but, what does the President’s re-election have to teach corporate America about diversity? That the diverse population of the US has grown to a critical mass and is now affecting major outcomes within the US. For corporate America, this means that the era of workplace diversity being a “nice to have program” has ended and the era of diversity programming being a “need to have program” has begun. Companies must work to understand the values and needs of the growing diverse population in the United States, or they will lose their employees and customers.
The US is the Least Diverse We Will Ever Be
Right now, we the American people are the least diverse we will ever be. The wave of diversity growth that is taking place in the US is a result of many factors that have combined to produce a gradual yet significant change in demographics. Immigration for the past three decades has shifted from originating predominantly in Europe to originating from Latin America and Asia. During this same time period, white Americans have been having fewer children and are increasingly marrying across racial and ethnic groups. Immigrants have higher birthrates than those people of childbearing age born in the US. With all of these factors combined, the US has reached the point where the majority of children born are now Hispanic, black, Asian or multi-racial. The US stands at a turning point in history where the white population is declining and in the coming years the older less diverse generations will make way for the younger and more diverse generations.
But what is the significance of this diversity for corporations? One implication is that “business as usual” will not suffice and that employers will have to examine who they are and how they do business in order to ensure that they are attracting and retaining top talent. Because the top talent is going to begin to look much different than it has in the past, employers can reasonably expect that these employees may have different values and needs than past or current employees. In order to accommodate these differences, companies should look closely at their human capital needs and how their company culture might have to change in order to attract their future top performers. Smart and forward thinking companies are already making changes that will result in more inclusive cultures. These cultures will be more appealing to young professional Americans. For it is not only the racially and culturally diverse that are looking to work for inclusive and diverse companies, Gen Y as a whole has grown up with this culture and expects to see this mirrored in their workplace environment. Those companies that are more conservative and slow to change may have a hard time retaining the diversity that they are able to attract, let alone attracting significant diversity to begin with. Look to Romney’s campaign to see the implications of this route.
Changing Demographics Requires Changing Corporate America
Given the demographic changes and the impact they will have upon corporations in the coming years, what then is the way forward? In order to create a workplace that effectively attracts and retains top talent, we need to create a workplace culture that is built upon the values that those workers are looking for from their employers. CCI stipulates that these include: the value of respecting differences; including new ideas and ways of doing business; a willingness to challenge the status quo in order to find a new competitive edge; and a flexible workplace that allows employees to tailor their workday in a way that maximizes their productivity. Many of these values can be introduced and reinforced through a company’s D&I program.
However, in order to effect change at the level of an organization’s culture, diversity needs to be internally positioned not as an isolated training program, but rather as an Organizational Development initiative that is able to effect organization wide change. If a company does not currently have a D&I initiative that is structured in this way, then taking some of the following steps will help your organization get started:
- Ensure that the D&I work is closely is closely aligned with organizational goals
- Seek and gain senior leadership support and active engagement throughout the entire process. Have them model their own personal engagement with the initiative.
- Engage and support managers in the work. Provide them with the training and resources to become advocates for diversity and inclusion within their teams.
- Provide regular communication to employees about the diversity work, its alignment to organizational goals and why diversity is important
With this switch diversity moves from being viewed as a feel good activity or program, to being recognized as a business imperative where the long-term organizational culture changes in a way that directly drives business results. In this framework diversity becomes an organizational development process that takes place over the course of many years and provides thousands of opportunities for employees to interact with the messaging behind the culture change. These interactions help employees to understand, accept and ultimately embrace the creation of a diverse and inclusive company culture. Which is exactly what the increasingly diverse majority of Americans are looking for.
Diversity is a “Need to Have” Program
As we saw in the re-election of President Obama, the demographics of the US have shifted and will continue to change and evolve. Practically speaking, these changes will impact how businesses operate because the majority of employees and customers will continue to look different and have different needs than they did just five years ago. These changes should motivate companies to take a good long look at the culture of their workplace and the operations that drive their major business outcomes. Companies should consider this important question: How is diversity affecting my business outcomes today and how will it affect these in five years? Companies and politicians alike need to understand who it is that lives in their communities and works for their companies. Ignoring this diversity will result in people voting with their feet as they seek workplaces that values their diverse points of view and the workplace culture they desire. Diversity has the power to transform and it is the strength of our diversity if we learn to leverage it that will continue to make our country and economy the most diverse and innovative in the world.