“Diversity” is the current buzzword of the American workplace. While well-intentioned, our approach is too often, literally, skin deep. The downside of token diversity is a world of cosmetic changes that ignores or refuses to acknowledge deeper shortcomings.

To look beyond the obvious, first understand that there are two types of diversity. The first is inherent diversity – factors like race, gender and sexual orientation – with which an individual is born. Inherent diversity is usually obvious and, therefore, more commonly addressed.

Fewer people are consciously aware of acquired diversity, which alludes to differences in perspectives that stem from life experience. Acquired diversity can be gained from living and working in different parts of the world, being a veteran status, even an unorthodox life journey.
So, how do you harness acquired diversity to reap its rewards? That depends on the type of diversity. Here are some examples.

Career Path

The traditional approach dictates that someone who has been with a particular department throughout their career is its best leadership prospect. However, interdependence and overlap between departments give the edge to individuals with a wider footprint gained from working across divisions. Contribute to acquired diversity with lateral promotions between departments.

Educational Background

Most people go through the standard pipeline of school to relevant degree to associated career. It takes an especially committed individual to break free of it and reroute themselves when they realize that their interests lie on a different road. Their courage and passion are hallmarks of the diversity of thought and conviction of purpose that make for good workers and potential future leaders.

International and Inter-Regional Experience

People in different parts of the world place varying levels of emphasis on benchmarks like productivity, adherence to schedules, and employee performance. Working across borders without an understanding of these differences can be incredibly frustrating and even counterproductive. Employees with work experience in diverse work settings can be invaluable assets.

Veteran Status

The armed services instill a sense of discipline and unity of purpose that no private organization can match. Veterans carry these values with them for life; their philosophy, adherence to guidelines, and commitment to your mission are instrumental to success. Because many veterans have served overseas, they also have a better understanding of different cultures, which we touched on above.

Putting it into Practice

Teams rich in both inherent and acquired diversity exhibit a depth of creativity and innovation that drive real-world results. They are more agile and can anticipate change rather than react to it.

Now that your organization has tackled obvious imbalances of diversity, turn your attention to the oft-ignored ones. To learn more about the importance of diversity within your organization, visit the Diversity & Inclusion section of my website.