Diversity is becoming an increasingly important facet of business culture in the 21st century. However, when most people think of diversity in business, they tend to think exclusively in terms of a business hiring a diverse body of employees, usually to meet a government-mandated quota of some sort. Ultimately, these tactics do not effectively promote true diversity in comparison to working effectively to integrate diversity into all aspects of a business, even on the supply side. In fact, working with diverse suppliers is an excellent way for a business to reap the advantages that diversity naturally brings to any market. By working with diverse suppliers, including minority-owned businesses, organizations can enjoy a greater range of supplier solutions to their needs, more innovative approaches to filling supply needs, and an assurance that, whatever the strategic context, they will have access to a supplier that can perform as desired. In this sense, adopting a policy of working with a desired range of suppliers can actually be considered a sound business strategy.
Resistance to Diversity Training
Nevertheless, because of the way in which diversity is incorrectly perceived at the cultural level, many organizations and their employees still feel a sense of resistance to diversity training. Because of the value that diversity can bring to an organization, it is useful to explore why this is the case. For one, employees have a tendency to think about diversity incorrectly, and perceive it only in regards to hiring policies. It is the responsibility of leaders to educate employees about the real nature and value of diversity.
Another reason for resistance may well be that certain employees not considered “minorities” can feel excluded from diversity practices. This is not a complaint with diversity per se, but rather with its inaccurate perception and implementation. Once again, it falls to organizational leaders to pursue diversity in such a way that all unique voices are heard and fairly considered, and that the needs of all employees are met.
It is also worth noting that oftentimes women feel a special sort of resistance to diversity practices. Research into the matter suggests this is because the main concern for most women in the workplace is not preferential treatment (positive or negative), but rather equality. Women may well feel as if the increased focus placed on them through diversity practices would in fact undermine their efforts to be treated as equals in the workplace. Again, this is a matter where leadership should clarify perceptions about diversity practices and re-emphasize that equality is the goal and essence of diversity training, as well as the market advantage to be gained by diversification within and outside the organization.
It is not just employees who feel threatened by diversity practices, however. At times, even senior management may be the force that resists diversity practices. One reason for this might well be that senior management has adapted to one methodology of doing business and fears that it will not mesh with a newly diversified body of suppliers. This is understandable, but is ultimately not a legitimate worry, as diversification of suppliers will actually present management with the opportunity to expand its business knowledge and management repertoire. If managers are unwilling to learn new approaches to business to adapt to a new market reality, then this presents another problem altogether.
Overcoming Resistance Culturally
As the above exploration indicates, it would seem that the primary resistance to diversity in business is ultimately a misunderstanding of diversity. Therefore, leaders who wish to guide their organizations towards a position where the value of diversification can be embraced (such as through working with a range of diverse minority suppliers) must take care to develop an organizational culture that inherently values diversity and educates employees and managers alike about the importance of diversity, both ethically and as a sound business practice.
One way in which this can be accomplished is through the adoption of a transformative style of leadership. When leaders adopt the philosophy that they will lead, not by a principle of top-down authority, but by setting an example to be followed, they gain the power to inspire and truly lead in a personally affective manner. This is achieved through the institution of an organizational culture that derives from the organization’s mission, goals, and core values. Since the function of a transformative leader is to spread organizational culture, he or she can use this instrument to disabuse followers of misinformation related to diversity. For instance, while it might be commonly held that “diversity” is all about meeting mandated hiring quotas, a transformational leader can use organizational culture to combat this perception by emphasizing the capacity of diversity to increase innovation and healthy competition. In other words, if management is careful to clearly communicate its stance on diversity, as well as its understanding of the value of diversity to the organization, this will go a long way toward changing the perceptions of diversity among followers to be more in line with reality.
The Issue of Government-Mandated Diversity
One controversial issue of diversity through minority suppliers is whether or not the use of diverse suppliers should be mandated by the government or decided upon at the individual level. Some look at the obvious benefits that minority suppliers bring to the marketplace and suggest that mandating the use of diverse suppliers would stimulate economic growth in a direct and immutable way. However, others are unconvinced and hold that the freedom of corporate leaders to act as they see fit is the most important component of the “free market” and thus should be protected from government mandates of this sort.
At the moment, supplier diversity is not mandated within the United States, but the federal government does have several programs and organizations dedicated to stimulating the spread of minority businesses in general. For most, this is a sufficient solution as it provides minority suppliers with a way to get noticed without infringing upon the freedoms of corporate leaders unnecessarily. The hope is that the organizational benefits conferred through the use of diverse suppliers will suffice to recommend it as standard business practice. Additionally, there is real doubt as to whether government mandated supplier diversity would be practically effective. Historically, similar policies, such as the establishment of government contracts with private organizations, have resulted in just a few organizations becoming the focus of the mandates and acquiring the majority of corporate interest at the expense of other minority business entities.
Ethical Concerns Relating to Diversity
Having addressed many of the controversies related to diversity, one should also examine certain ethical concerns relating to diversity. Whatever the status of diversity practice within an organization, it is the moral duty of organizational leaders to project the truth about diversity and its value at all times. This means that leaders must work to educate employees that diversity is about more than hiring policies and thus cannot be reduced to an issue of “reverse discrimination”. This also means that certain policies that are commonplace should perhaps be abandoned because of the harm they inherently inflict upon the perception of diversity. One such practice is political correctness, which has reduced the perception of diversity to a matter of semantic labelling. Another is the “love it or leave it” mentality, which asserts that those calling for diversity should simply leave the the country if not satisfied with the conditions it offers. This mentality is obviously absurd and is entirely ignorant of the innovative advantages to be conferred through the use of diverse suppliers.