When people discuss the value in diversity, they often mean a difference in background and thought, and how that correlates to fresh perspective or new ideas. HR departments and hiring practices aim to attract people of various races and ethnicities because they believe in diversity or believe in meeting a quota, but the truth is, diversity doesn’t mean that your next brainstorming session will suddenly bear inventive, new fruit.
A new, diverse hire might just be the next CEO, or they may quietly put their heads down and provide good work for the next 30 years—what’s important is that their presence may make someone else comfortable enough to stick around, share their thoughts or help create a healthy and productive work environment. The value in diversity can be subtle, but that doesn’t lessen its worth.
A study from McKinsey, a management consulting company, revealed that “companies that ranked in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, the returns on equity were 53 percent higher on average than those in the bottom quartile.” And that success, in turn, spreads to other areas of their business.
It Works for You
Let me share a personal example: paper is in my blood. My dad has worked at a paper company for nearly 30 years and my mother is a published author—all things considered, paper was an inevitable part of my future. When I submitted my application to be an intern at Domtar, the summer before my senior year in college, I was excited but nervous. My dad’s experience with work has been positive, he’s been with his company since he graduated college, but over the years he has mentioned how few people in his industry looked like us.
I’m a Black man, and while I’m comfortable with any and everyone, I couldn’t help but hope that I would see a few people that looked like me. On the day of my interview, I dressed in a suit and drove from school to the Domtar office in Fort Mill, SC. After a short wait, I was shown to the interview room, where I was soon joined by Vanécia “V” Carr, the Director of Marketing and two members of the marketing team.
To my surprise, V was a Black woman—someone who looked like me. Throughout my internship and my time as an employee, watching the way she works and interacts with others has allowed me to feel comfortable providing constructive feedback, explaining my own ideas, or taking charge where I think I can help, an experience that isn’t limited to me. PwC, a multinational services company based in London, polled 700 directors and published a study stating that “that 43 percent of the respondents found it difficult to voice a dissenting view in their boardroom.” Even at the highest level, a splash of diversity can lead to invaluable debate or longevity in a position.
I know that without my positive experience, I wouldn’t have returned for a post-graduate internship and become a full-time employee, but this idea is bigger than me. V is a firm believer that diversity is critical to business success and has fostered an environment of inclusion where everyone is safe to share their ideas and opinions even if they differ from hers.
Without it, Where Would We Be?
Everyone on Earth shares the collective experience of being human, but beyond that, we each have something unique to bring to the table. While that can prove effective among coworkers, the value in diversity extends beyond the workplace. What we learn from someone new can be passed on to friends and family, birthing new discussions and new ways of thinking, and while that sounds idealistic and wishful, the truth lies somewhere close.
When we cook, we add different ingredients to create complex flavors; when we make music, we use different instruments to construct complete songs. There isn’t a plant or animal alive that can survive without a certain level of genetic diversity—it ensures their ability to adapt and evolve—and we as humans are no different. Growth, be it personal or professional, cannot happen in an echo chamber.
On a personal level, the value in diversity is evident when I pass my boss in the hallway and know that I have the potential to be just as successful as she is and that my future in this company is what I make it. I see the future of the paper industry inextricably tied to fresh perspective—this means more diversity and difference, and more times when an intern walks into an interview and sees someone familiar.