Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why IBM Works: Diversity 3.0

I could not but admire the IBM Corporation, listening to the presentations on their diversity programs. I am a tad suspicious when big managers talk about diversity initiatives at their organizations, as the intent is normally drastically different from the implementation, but this time I was 100% convinced: I had heard the speeches, I had seen the videos and the materials and I had talked to the employees: at IBM diversity is not a program but a culture.

If Diversity 1.0 is mere compliance with the legislation and 2.0 is a more advanced version of integrating D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) practices into the business processes, Diversity 3.0 is shaping the agenda and proactively converting differences into the critical competitive advantage of the everchanging world of today.

Few managers understand the business case for diversity yet. The general feeling is that it's a nice-to-have but when push comes to shove they retreat to the safe haven of similarity and homogeneity. Yet, diversity only becomes a competitive advantage once everyone in the organization understand that:
  • the marketplace is becoming increasingly global: to reach into the new markets and grow your business you need to understand the cultural nuances of those market segments you are trying to conquer. Making your workforce diverse facilitates this process tremendously: basically, you are bringing the market intelligence into your company! Taking it even further, foster supplier diversity programs and go for diverse clients and customers.
  • great places to work attract great talent: the power of the workforce is in their differences and not similarities. Feeling welcome makes people work harder, be loyal and recreate this environment of acceptance and suport. How sustainable can dog-eats-dog or I'm-better-than-you-coz-you're-strange environments be?
  • diversity breeds innovation: we all know that innovation comes from combination. Put as many differences together (Lynda Gratton calls them heuristics), create conducive environment for creative juices to flow and there is not much left for you to do - change will emerge by itself reinventing the organization and making it stronger and more adaptable to the changing market needs.
Change starts with listening. Listen to what your organization or community is asking for. The trick is to listen not to the loudest voices, but to everyone. I get a feeling that at IBM every word is heard. Uthopic, of course, but that's what I heard from the employees themselves. They are not afraid to talk about their personal experiences in the workplace and they are proud of their differences and extremely acceptable of the differences of others. It flows in the company and it flows from the top. I urge you to watch this video about Policy Letter #4 and think where your organization is on the Diversity 3.0 journey:


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. ANTHONY HESS I'm a strong believer in diversity and the business advantage provided by it - stronger teams are diverse teams, at least once they learn to work together. One of my frustrations, however, has been the replacement of diversity with checkboxes and calling them the same thing. True diversity if a lot harder to achieve than that, and takes a real commitment to looking deeper at people. As always, thanks for the post :)

  3. Totally agree with you, Anthony! As I put it in my post, diversity is not a program but a culture.



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