Diversity can boost the bottom line

2014-06-25T16:30:00Z 2014-06-30T10:50:06Z Diversity can boost the bottom lineJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

HOBART | Corporate executives and business leaders are most likely to listen to numbers.

The numbers don't lie: greater diversity in the workplace boost productivity and the bottom line, said Purdue North Central Professor Anne Christo-Baker at The Times 7th Annual Diversity Job Fair and Business Symposium.

Christo-Baker, an assistant professor in organizational behavioral and leadership who hails from Sierra Leone, said diversity boosts profits by 36 percent and customer satisfaction by 39 percent on average. Studies have shown that it increased productivity by 22 percent and caused a 22 percent decline in employee turnover, which can be costly. A major financial incentive is that it helps companies better understand different markets and can avert blunders, such when General Motors attempted to sell Chevrolet Novas in Mexico, without realizing Nova means "it doesn't go" in Spanish.

She and other speakers at the annual event at Avalon Manor in Hobart enumerated the many benefits of diversity in the workplace: how it leads to more innovation and creativity, and improves decision-making and problem-solving. Speakers encouraged the dozens of human resources professionals who attended to be change agents who advocate for diversity and inclusion.

NIPSCO, one of Northwest Indiana's largest employers, aims for diversity in hiring so it can be representatives of the communities it serves, said Chris Smith, vice president of human resources for its parent company NiSource.

"There's a business case: we're competing for talent we try to attract to Northwest Indiana instead of elsewhere in the country and world," Smith said. "We need to have the discussion of what does our organization look like to attract and make people feel comfortable. When we offered same-sex domestic partner benefit, it wasn't just because it was the right thing to do with social and equal rights. There's also a war for talent and business case for it. Doing the right thing and what's best of the business are not mutually exclusive from an HR perspective."

Real diversity goes beyond just hiring people from different races, genders and age groups, said Phillip Powell, special assistant to the provost for inclusion at Valparaiso University. There is also the matter of making them feel welcome.

Powell recalled when he worked in television news and took a job in Madison, Wisc., where he was the only person of color in his workplace. People stared at him when he was directing newscasts out in the community.

"It dawned on me there was no one like me in the community and they were curious what I what I was doing," he said. "I had a right to be there but was in some way being excluded."

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