Workplace Diversity: ‘To Win in Your Market, You Need to Hire the Market’

By Jonathan Stoller, The Globe and Mail

When Zabeen Hirji came to Canada in 1974, she never dreamed she would have the career she does today. Although the civil rights movement had pushed equality issues to the forefront, a Tanzanian immigrant like her had little chance of reaching her full potential in the business world.

When she started working at Royal Bank of Canada in 1977, the bank had no female or visible minority executives on its board. With some encouragement from one senior manager, though, she persevered, and gradually climbed the ranks. Today, Ms. Hirji sits on RBC’s executive board as the head of HR.

“The culture at RBC has changed,” she says. “Today, diversity is seen as an asset.”

Once considered primarily an issue of social responsibility, a growing number of organizations have embraced workplace diversity as the range of benefits – both financial and non-financial – have become more clear.

“It definitely leads to a stronger bottom line,” says Robin Taub, chartered accountant and owner of Robin Taub Financial Consulting. “Return on equity, return on sales, return on capital, share performance, stock price growth.”

As markets continue to globalize, a diverse work force is helping businesses grasp the increasingly varied needs of customers, who come from a multitude of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Sonia Kang, assistant professor at the Rotman School of Management, says diverse organizations tend to have better employee relations. “You typically find less absenteeism, less turnover, higher productivity, people are more committed,” she says. “There’s a higher sense of belonging, which tends to make them better workers.”

They also tend to be more innovative, less prone to groupthink, and are better at attracting and retaining talent.

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