Rethinking diversity in the modern workplace

Shout out the first thing you think of when I say diversity in the workplace.

Women … people of color … or how about a whole bunch of statistics, checklists and metrics, which really are just patronizing ways many companies attempt to illustrate how they are “living” the mission of the company to create a diverse workplace.

Now, try out these groups: parents … environmentalists … veterans … millennials … even those suffering from diabetes.

Or perhaps do it this way: engineers … lawyers … tech geeks … and liberal arts majors.

It’s time for diversity and inclusion to get into your 21st century workplace.

If you still need to hear why putting women and people of color in positions of power helps your business financially, stop reading here. Society has passed you by (just ask your kids). The same goes for those who view women who just happen to be of color as some sort of Double Word Score.

If you want to take the next step, consider this method of management.

Stop forcing your employees to fit whatever job descriptions you need on that day, and start figuring out how the diverse talents and backgrounds of your employees will help you build your company.

Companies need diversity of opinions on all issues to succeed. And this diversity is not just defined in black-and-white (or male and female) perspectives.

I was reminded of this at two panel discussions I attended in the past week.

The first, run by EisnerAmper, talked about how you create a culture of innovation in your workplace by combining diverse ideas.

Chris McGarry, the director of entrepreneurship at Columbia University, talked about creating a collaboratory, meaning it combines every discipline being taught (from architecture, urban planning, business, journalism, biology and even performing arts) and partners people in those fields with a data scientist to create new ideas.

Tony Pankopf, an investor, said she searches for this type of atmosphere.

“One of the things that is important to germinate new ideas and innovation is having diversity — and cognitive diversity,” she said.

At a conference sponsored by Aon and Sanofi, diversity and human resource leaders at top companies talked about how their employee resource groups make a difference.

For starters, these so-called ERGs are now called employee business resource groups to show their impact on the bottom line.

Mirian Graddick-Weir, an executive vice president at Merck, said the company has used millennials to help the company evolve its internal policies. It also has used other groups to determine if new campaigns could be viewed as offensive.

Margaret Pego, a senior vice president at Public Service Electric & Gas, said the company brought together an ERG group devoted to environmental issues to get insights on the company business case for nuclear energy.

No Jersey company may use ERGs better than Sanofi. It has nine of them, Clint Wallace, the head of HR, North America, said.

And each one, he said, serves a purpose, such as a parents group that calls attention to parental issues that may be impacting work performance. Or a veterans group, which helps the company decode resumes.

“When you look at a veteran’s resume, most people who have not been a part of the armed forces cannot decipher what does this mean in the corporate world,” he said. “This is where the members of the veterans ERGs matter. Because they can help decipher this resume. Break down the code and say, ‘This is the strength this person can bring to this organization based on what they did in the military.’ ”

It’s a way, he said, of taking advantage of the diversity that exists in every company and in every person.

“For us, this is a group of people who are volunteers, self-guided and leveraged by leadership,” he said. “If you have ERGs and they’re not playing a role with regard to your strategy, then you’re wasting your time.”