Companies embrace power of diversity

Businesses seeking inclusiveness reap greater rewards

In order to compete, organizations must stay one step ahead. And more and more industry leaders are recognizing that diversity powers innovation.

The diversity and innovation principle is an easy concept: It is almost impossible to have something new come out of the same people thinking in the same ways. True benefits are derived from fully leveraging the strengths, talents and differences of a workforce by eliminating barriers and developing human potential in a fully inclusive environment.

A good example can be found in California’s Silicon Valley. With its breadth of engineers from different academic disciplines and almost every corner of the world, the area is more innovative than other technology hot spots that have equal brainpower but less diversity.

Canada has a great advantage when it comes to implementing a deliberate diversity strategy within organizations: Skilled immigrants. This talent pool has language skills, knowledge of international markets and fresh ways of looking at problems.

Diversity helps Hewitt tailor retirement plans

“How can you think outside of the box if you’re surrounded by people who have the same experiences as you? You all see the box the same way. Skilled immigrants bring something different to the mix,” said Suzanne MacFarlane, diversity sourcing specialist at Hewitt Associates.

Hewitt is a global provider of HR services and one of its core consulting areas is retirement management. With clients’ staff becoming more diverse, Hewitt recognized the need to step back and consider new strategies.

For example, one of Hewitt’s clients in the United States found employees were tapping into retirement savings plans very differently. It was also clear the differences followed cultural lines.

As a result, the team decided to investigate how people from various cultures perceived money and saving for the future.

The main demographic groups in the U.S. are Latin Americans, Europeans, Asians and African Americans. The investigations revealed Latin Americans think more about the short term whereas Europeans think about the next generation and Asians look to the next century.

The team hypothesized that if perceptions were so different, these would play out in defined retirement contributions. Hewitt tested this theory across clients in the U.S. and is starting to look to Canada. It found African Americans and Latin Americans under-save and under-participate in savings plans compared to Anglo-Saxons, even when earning the same amount.

The diverse backgrounds and knowledge of the Hewitt team members allowed them to make the discovery, which eventually led to tailored communications plans and increased contributions.

“If we didn’t have diversity in our midst we would have missed this,” said Andres Tapia, Hewitt’s global chief diversity officer.

Diversity equals productivity at Procter & Gamble

Multinational manufacturer Procter & Gamble’s business is innovation. With more than $2.9 billion in annual sales in Canada, the company is constantly trying to improve its products and develop new ones.

To build and foster a culture of innovation, P&G has entrenched diversity as a key principle in the workplace and leveraged the skilled immigrant talent pool. Management has noted the most productive teams are the diverse ones, so teams are organized accordingly.

The global business service unit at P&G in Canada is in charge of designing business solutions and composed of about 150 multifunctional professionals. They come from more than 40 nations, including Venezuela, Japan, Israel and Ghana, and speak more than 20 languages.

When faced with the challenge of offshoring and outsourcing in 2002, group members realized, if they wanted to keep their jobs in Canada, they needed to adapt and leverage this diversity in a way no one else could.

Now, the global business service unit in Canada is one of only four groups in the world devoted to sourcing and supporting P&G services such as IT, employee benefits and payroll, business analytics and purchasing on a global scale.

In addition to creating a diverse employee mix, P&G is open to and prides itself on collaboration with external partners. It has formalized this strategy through its Connect and Develop program.

Historically, P&G’s best innovations came from connecting ideas across internal businesses. Taking this one step further, the company decided to set a goal to acquire 50 per cent of innovations from outside the company. The move was not meant to displace P&G’s own staff, but leverage them by exposing them to even more diverse ideas, people and products.

P&G can now identify promising ideas throughout the world and apply its own research and development, manufacturing, marketing and purchasing capabilities to create better and cheaper products faster.

Lillian Manea is a communications manager for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC). Claire DeVeale is a communications and program specialist for, a TRIEC program that helps employers accelerate the integration of skilled immigrants.

Advantage diversity

6 ways to leverage diversity

In order to get the most out of immigrant employees, ensure they are placed in positions equal to their skills and experience. Someone with several years of international experience is not being used efficiently if hired for an entry-level position.

Be open to new ideas. Just because concepts are not familiar ¬doesn’t mean they aren’t good. That’s what innovation is all about.

Identify a diversity champion within the most senior levels of the organization.

Hear people out even though they may be harder to understand. Be patient with those who have a thicker accent or different presentation style.

Eliminate barriers and develop human potential by providing a fully inclusive environment.

Recognize cultural celebrations on the office calendar.

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