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How To Be a Great Boss to a Diverse Team

How To Be a Great Boss to a Diverse Team

“The worst kind of group for an organization that wants to be innovative and creative is one in which everyone is alike and gets along too well,” according to Stanford University’s Margaret A. Neale. “And the key to making nearly any kind of diversity work is managing it well. “

Are you building a diversified team for your small business? Many studies have shown that diversity in the workplace brings positive results. Here are a few examples. A 2006 study of jury decisions led by Tufts University’s Samuel Sommers found that groups comprised of mixed races exchanged a broader range of information during deliberations about a sexual assault case than all-white groups did.

A 2013 study led by Richard Freeman of Harvard University found that scientific papers written by diverse ethnic groups had higher impact factors – including geographical diversity, a greater number of author addresses, and a higher number of references – than papers written by people of the same ethnicity.

A 2006 study by Stanford’s Neale, Katherine W. Phillips of Columbia Business School and Gregory Northcraft of the University of Illinois found that racially mixed discussion groups significantly outperformed the groups with no diversity in completing a murder mystery exercise.

What does diversity mean to your business? These and other studies demonstrate that teams comprised of people with diverse backgrounds and varying abilities tend to work harder and more creatively together than people who have more in common with each other.

Definition of Diversity

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines diversity as “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.” and “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.”

Although most people think about diversity in terms or race and gender, there are other key aspects of diversity to consider. These include age, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities. Other aspects of diversity can include weight, education level, physical appearance, marital status, parental status, income level and political affiliation.

If you own your own small business, you may be thinking by now that all this sounds great for an academic study, but how can you effectively manage a diverse group of people? Although leading a group of people who think alike on how to do things may sound easier, it may not get you the innovative results you want for your growing business.

7 Ways You Can Be a Great Boss of a Diverse Team

Play fair. Did you know that favoritism by bosses is rampant in businesses of all sizes? A 2012 survey by the McDonough School of Business of Georgetown University found that 92 percent of senior business executives had witnessed favoritism in employee promotions, and 84 percent of them reported they had seen it at their own companies. About 25 percent of those executives polled admitted to practicing favoritism themselves.

Good leaders strive to treat all employees equally. They also encourage their employees to report any incidents of discriminatory behavior.

Get personal. In order to put away stereotypes once and for all, strong leaders of diverse teams take the time to get to know their employees on a personal level. Differences in cultural backgrounds and age fall away when you get someone talking about their kids, for instance. Therefore, leaders of diverse teams should look for ways to learn more about their employees’ hobbies and interests.

Plan ways to talk one-on-one with your team members so that they feel valued as individuals. Maintain an open-door policy that encourages workers to talk with you or your managers when they have concerns or questions. Then – and this one is huge – listen more than you talk.

Getting personal goes both ways. In order to build and strengthen your diverse team, it is important that you share details about yourself as well. Make sure your team members know the story of how you started the firm and all the hurdles you have faced and may continue to face as you build your organization.

By developing a two-way relationship, you will not only create a stronger bond with your team, but you will help them feel more part of your company’s history and culture.

Offer feedback. Some leaders are more of boom lowerers than feedback givers. When you create a system in which employees of all backgrounds are given feedback – both positive and not so positive – on how they are doing on the job, they will feel more confident that they are contributing to the company.

Lay out clear expectations and then set frequent periods for review. You will find that you and your managers can develop important mentoring relationships this way.

Show respect. Related to the use of job performance feedback is the use of simple, honest respect. Many employee surveys point to the high value workers place on respect. In fact, according to the National Business Research Institute, employees are more motivated by respect and the level of appreciation they feel at their place of employment than by the salary they receive.

A respectful workplace:

  • provides accountability for one’s actions
  • seeks to strengthen and improve working relationships
  • offers conflict resolution and problem-solving tools
  • looks for ways to reduce workplace stress
  • supports a culture of fairness

When you treat your employees of all diverse backgrounds with the respect they deserve, they will surprise you with their performance.

Here’s an illustration of the concept. When Doug Conant assumed leadership of Campbell’s Soup in 2001, there had been a series of layoffs following a deep decline in sales. Company morale was so low that one manager described working there as the worst he had ever seen among the Fortune 500 companies.

During his time as CEO, Conant emphasized respect. One manifestation of this emphasis was the fact that he wrote individualized thank you notes to employees and made it a priority to connect with them and to make them feel valued. By 2010, Campbell’s workers were setting all-time performance records.

Handle conflict. No matter how good a leader you are, conflicts will arise. Good leaders of diverse teams will not stick their heads in the sand when tensions flare. Instead, they will find ways to handle the conflict.

The phrase “forewarned is forearmed” comes to mind, as it will serve you well to have a conflict resolution policy in place. Educate your new hires on your company’s process of dealing with conflict and the proper channels for conflict resolutions.

In addition, if you desire innovation in your company, it is okay if people disagree. You can lead by example in helping your employees treat each other respectfully as they work their way through disagreements. Encourage the use of respectful guidelines for brainstorming meetings and group conversations.

Here is one way to look at conflict. In his book, New Directions in Diversity: A New Approach to Covering America’s Multicultural Communities, George Padgett uses the mantra “challenge with passion, not poison.”

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Clear, open, honest communication fosters the acceptance of diversity and helps unite people of varying backgrounds. On the other hand, perceived closed-door decisions and “good ‘ol boy” networks create feelings of distrust and even unworthiness.

Clear, written policies that are provided in online and print form to new employees and are updated as needed to all employees are important for conveying the way your company embraces team diversity.

Email and social media certainly has its place in your company communication, but unfortunately, these quick forms of communication often can be misunderstood. If you have a complex situation to address, you may want to call a meeting, so your team members can hear things straight from you.

Changing Face of Business

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people of color currently own 22 percent of U.S. businesses, and women own 29 percent of U.S. businesses. Latina-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of the women-owned business market.

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce reports that firms owned by gay or transgender individuals comprise about 5 percent of U.S. businesses.

Census Bureau figures indicate that by 2050, new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in our working-age population. Population experts predict that because of these changes, the U.S. will not have racial or ethnic majority by 2050.

Clearly, the face of business in the United States in changing, and, as a result, embracing diversity in all its many varieties can be is a key part of your small business’s success.

According to a 2013 article in the Harvard Business Review, you may even attract better employees when you have a diverse workforce in place. For example, young workers will not see a place for them in a company of all older workers and vice versa.

The Harvard study examines two types of diversity – inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity includes traits people are born with such as race or gender. Acquired diversity has to do with skills you learn or experiences you have such as working in another country or having worked for an all-female customer base.

In a survey of 1,800 professionals, as well as numerous case studies, focus groups and interviews, the Harvard study found that companies that had both kinds of diversity (called 2D diversity) were 45 percent more likely to report that their market share grew over the past year and 70 percent more likely to have captured a new market over the past year than companies without 2D diversity.

No matter how big or small your workforce is, a diverse combination of backgrounds and experience levels can create an innovative and productive atmosphere. However, diversity is only a part of the equation of success for your company. Ultimately, the real reason your small business will succeed or fail is you – and the leadership skills you demonstrate.


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by Tricia Drevets // Regular Contributor to Businessing Magazine. Tricia Drevets is a freelance writer who specializes in business and communication topics. A community college speech and theater instructor, Tricia lives in beautiful Southern Oregon.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.