May 3, 2012

Diversity: Mindsets to Markets

Ernst & Young’s Eric Rawlinson talks about the value of diversity and offers advice for other employers on how to leverage diverse talent to drive organizational success. (This article was originally published on the DiverseCity Blog as part of the Leaders in Action series.)

By Tina Edan

Eric Rawlinson, Managing Partner, GTA, has been with Ernst & Young for over 20 years. During this time he has applied his skills and talents to various departments, always with an open ear, commitment to facilitating debate and openness to new ways of doing things. For him, business is about innovation – critical to that is differentiating yourself from your competitors.

Difference Can Open a Window to a Unique Vantage Point

As a native Anglophone in Quebec, Mr. Rawlinson spent his early years as a cultural and linguistic minority. This was the beginning of his understanding of diversity as an advantage.

Counting is Critical

At Ernst & Young, nearly half of its employees are visible minorities or immigrants. Within the management ranks, 35 per cent are visible minorities. Because they are conscious and counting, they have created a baseline for action and a measure for success.

The qualitative value of these numbers translates to increased networks and innovation. According to Mr. Rawlinson, engaging people with a global perspective can lead to increased creativity and problem solving. For him, “diversity is a real strength for Canada, particularly in our increasing globalized marketplace. You need to be conscious of the demographic you live and work in and who your customers are, otherwise you could be missing business opportunities. It is important that diversity is reflected in leadership.”

Lessons for Other Corporations

Even with the best intentions, reflecting the diversity of your customer-base or population can be challenging for any employer.

The publication, The new global mindset: Driving innovation through diverse perspectives, outlines Ernst & Young’s commitment to diversity. It is a sophisticated account of how “cultural diversity offers the flexibility and creativity we need to recreate the global economy for the 21st century.”

The document reveals “four imperatives for success,” including:

  • Stir the pot. Research shows that diverse viewpoints generate the lively debate that can create new ideas.
  • Anticipate the Next Big Thing — or better yet, drive the Next Big Thing! Diversity powers innovation, helping your business generate new products and services.
  • Nurture a spectrum of talent. Expect to find talent in unexpected places.
  • Get the mindset. Focus on transformational leadership.

Final Words of Advice

According to Mr. Rawlinson, companies need to start their diversity journey by understanding why diversity is important and by establishing practical goals and programs that reinforce key messages. For individuals from diverse communities he suggests understanding what networks are available and getting involved.

In brief: Don’t be shy — volunteer your skills. Hard work pays off. Just start.

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