Companies with diverse workforces - in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic backgrounds - enjoy multiple benefits. A Harvard Business Review study has found that cognitively diverse teams solve problems faster than teams of similar people.
Meanwhile, a January 2018 study conducted by North Carolina State University's Poole College of Management reveals that companies with policies that encourage the promotion and retention of a diverse workforce perform better at developing innovative products and services.
These characteristics play out across all levels of the enterprise - including within the IT organization. HMG Strategy recently caught up with Earl Newsome, Global CIO and VP at Praxair, to get his views on the benefits of developing diverse teams along with his recommendations for developing diverse teams.
HMG Strategy: Why is it so important for organizations to have teams from diverse backgrounds?
Earl Newsome: Ultimately, your best and most innovative solutions come from examining the widest variety of views and opinions. Only through transparent dialogue that examines different perspectives and vantage points can you establish what's best for your organization.
It's not dissimilar to casting a play or a performance. Each character has a unique role and if you fill it with the same exact type of person, the result would be a pretty boring show. But a vibrant and diverse cast brings something unique to the performance resulting in a more dynamic and successful outcome.
What are some of the ways you've approached this at Praxair?
EN: It's important to understand there are many elements of diversity you can assess - such as background, education, race, religion and country of origin. I always try to make sure I have these various elements in my environment, both inside and outside the company. With regards to inside the company, I work hand in hand with our corporate diversity management and talent acquisition teams to ensure I have the best talent and interns that's available in a marketplace that is rapidly diversifying every day.
But it's not enough to simply seek diversity, you must ensure these varying perspectives are being listened to, as well. Diversity is the measure of differences you include on your team, but inclusion is a choice, and as a leader you must make sure you're seeking and utilizing all those different views and perspectives.
The last element is collaboration. That's where the rubber hits the road. You have to take all those different ideas, suggestions and points of view and work collaboratively to incorporate them into your strategy.
One example at Praxair is when we recruit. We go to the places where we can find the best talent and ensure we're very inclusive in sourcing applicants. First and foremost, our goal is to fill our organization with the very best talent. This includes obtaining the best and most varied perspectives.
What are some of the lessons you've learned over the course of your career that you've been able to apply in your approach to strengthening diversity and recruitment at Praxair?
EN: The first is, you need to seek out the dissenting opinions in the room. Ask for them. Usually that dissenting opinion is there, it just may not have been expressed. The person may be an introvert or is concerned about saying the wrong thing. You need to make sure you draw out all those ideas.
Second, you have to get your passport stamped. In other words, you have to go out there and meet the people. You can't just sit in your office. I often bring in ten random people, offer coffee and connect with them. I do this when I travel, when I meet with customers and with my team members. I want to learn about what's going well, what keeps them up at night and what's on their wish lists. This empowers people to speak up and helps you get all those diverse perspectives from across your business.
Finally, a great way to drive diversity is to give thanks. As people within your organization are executing on the strategy, be sure to provide them with rewards and recognition. Recognize the people in your organization and the value that they're delivering. One of the ways I do this is with thank you cards.
What have been some of the results?
EN: I think what you see and the reward that you get is buy-in. I don't know if you can quantify buy-in, but if you're not seeing the kind of progress you expect, you're not getting your message across. At Praxair, we have been very successful at driving diversity and have received extensive recognition for it. For instance, the company was recently named one of the 500 best U.S. companies to work for by Forbes in 2018, received a perfect score of 100% on the Corporate Equality Index and was included in DiversityInc's 2018 list of Noteworthy Companies for Diversity for the 3rd consecutive year.
What are some recommendations you'd offer to your peers on things they should be thinking about and doing with regards to diversity?
EN: Reach out to people at all levels across your organization and let them know you want to hear their ideas. That alone will help people feel included.
Then take that a step further by carrying out little acts of inclusion. For instance, take someone to lunch you might not otherwise connect with. You may be surprised what you'll learn and that individual will likely feel more appreciated and included.
You may also want to consider offering unconscious bias training and starting employee-run resource groups for female and diverse employees, as we do at Praxair. Always remember, for an organization to reach its full potential, all team members must commit to building a diverse and inclusive workforce where all views are respected and heard.