Diversity Is Not the Same to Everyone. Here's Why That Matters If companies want to reap the benefits of diversity in its truest form, it's time to consider diversifying it.

By Martin Rowinski

Key Takeaways

  • -There's more than meets the eye when it comes to diversity.
  • -Yes, traditionally marginalized groups should be considered when meeting diversity initiatives, but are some groups overlooked, too?
  • -Immigrants, neurodivergent persons, and others should be considered when making impactful decisions about hiring a diverse team.
  • -Not to detract from modern efforts, but true inclusion should take into account even more than the current standards for diversity.
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I know I'm not the typical picture of diversity. However, growing up in communist Poland offered me a unique approach to problems and solutions that most businesspeople I meet today never consider. Diversity of thought — combining our differences to cover as many diverse perspectives as possible in our decision-making — is where companies find the most benefits.

While diversity and inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups are important, being truly diverse takes more thought than people realize. To truly experience greater diversity, we need to eliminate bias, go beyond what diversity looks like and choose the people that bring something new to the table.

Related: 10 Ideas to Drive Your DEI Initiatives in 2023

The often-invisible diversity of immigrants

Like many immigrants, my childhood experiences — living under a harsh communist regime, fleeing my homeland and transitioning to a foreign country — shaped who I became and how I perceived the world. After ten years of never knowing if we would have enough to eat, the abundance in the U.S. looked different to me than someone who grew up never knowing scarcity. I saw and took advantage of more opportunities in the US because I was so used to seeing none.

And I'm not alone. Immigrants commonly view the U.S. as a land of opportunity, which is why so many find success here. By leaving their home countries and starting a new life, immigrants demonstrate a higher tolerance for risk, which may explain why immigrants are more likely to become entrepreneurs. Evidently, 80% more likely than U.S.-born citizens. Nataly Kelly for the Harvard Business Review compared the "immigrant mindset" to a growth mindset, an adaptability in the face of change that drives business success.

I recognize how my history created differences from others at a young age. In Poland, we all felt trapped by communism, so when an exchange student came to our school, we were curious about their differences. We asked questions and welcomed him openly. In the U.S., outsiders were always coming in, and the kids I met at school there felt more comfortable bullying the new kid. Their different experience shaped the decisions they made, too.

Over time, I learned to lean into my differences to build my own path to professional success. As my classmates and I got older, people were less likely to pick on me for my accent and became more interested in it. I started using it as a tool for networking, asking questions and learning from others. With over 25 years of C-suite experience and as CEO and founder of a company dedicated to curating high-performing boards, I have seen how combining many diverse minds can create successful leadership teams.

Related: The 3 C's That Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us Today To Advance Workplace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Align the picture of diversity with the business case

Both gender and race represent an important element of the business case for diversity — but within them, there are swaths of diverse perspectives to consider. External pressures, from government and industry standards to public perception, can often drive businesses to focus only on the diversity that observers can see.

Imagine a board of all white men. It appears homogeneous on the surface but might be more diverse than meets the eye. Maybe all of them are immigrants from around the world, sharing vastly different experiences. Of course, boards should be diverse — including a range of women and people of different races and ethnicities — to gain more of the business benefits. We may still find diversity among a board entirely made up of all women or entirely Latino or black men, but the business case for diversity is less about appearances.

The benefits of diversity come from being able to bounce ideas off of people who think differently than us, including as much of a range of diversity as possible — age, socioeconomic background, neurodivergence, as well as gender, race, and ethnicity. The idea is to create a team where each member thinks as differently as possible about approaching problems and creating solutions. Even when that diversity looks like a white man, if he happens to be an immigrant, we can count on diversity's benefits.

Related: Solving Organizational Diversity Is Still an Issue: The Cost Is Steep, But the Rewards Are High

Put this to practical use in hiring

To bring the benefits of diversity to a team, we need to consider how certain perspectives fill in the gaps in a company's leadership. We can implement this into the hiring processes by:

  1. Eliminating bias. Imagine both candidates taking an interview behind a curtain. Talk to them and get a sense of their mission, vision and values while determining how well they align with the company.
  2. Looking for diversity that brings something new to the table. Without thinking about what diversity "should" look like, choose the candidate based on what their unique perspective brings to benefit the company.
  3. Going beyond the usual concepts. Look for adding diversity in unexplored areas — age, socioeconomic background, neurodiversity, or culture.
  4. Offering mentorship and sponsorship opportunities. Sometimes the candidate with the right diversity to benefit a team has less experience. Set them up with veteran team members to provide support and resources so they can better develop their skills and navigate their careers while creating a sense of belonging on the team.
  5. Being open to seeing potential in everyone. There's a classic story of two brothers with an alcoholic father. One grew up successful, and the other followed in their father's footsteps. When asked how they ended up where they were in life, both answered: "Because of my father." One brother chose to grab adversity by the horns and become better than his past. That may not look like diversity on the outside, but his perspective would bring diverse thinking and problem-solving to a team.

Related: What Business Leaders Are Getting Wrong About Bias Training

Of course, we must continue to include more women and others from traditionally marginalized groups in all levels of business and leadership, but to reap the business benefits, a diversity of diversity is the best approach. Sometimes the most unique perspective may not come from the diversity we're used to seeing. Leaders need to read between the lines. Create a bigger picture of diversity than checked boxes and good appearances by gathering the right diversity based on what matters to the company.

Martin Rowinski

CEO of Boardsi

Martin Rowinski is the CEO of Boardsi —  a corporate board recruitment company. Rowinski is also an investor and author.

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