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Awareness of Biases Helps Leaders Adapt to Diversity 
 

11/8/2012  By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR 
 
 

More than two-thirds of leaders (72 percent) said that an understanding of their own biases is helpful when working in a diverse environment, according to a survey released Oct. 24, 2012.  Just 18 percent said training is helpful.

The majority of 511 executives registered with Egon Zehnder’s “Club of Leaders” who participated in the firm’s 11th International Executive Panel (IEP), a global leadership survey fielded June 25 to July 31, 2012, said an inclusive corporate culture is especially helpful when working in a diverse environment (85 percent), as is personal experience (83 percent).

Just 37 percent said, however, that mentoring from peers or superiors was helpful.

Geographically, 60 percent of the executives surveyed hailed from Europe, while 14 percent were from North America, 11 percent were from Asia, 8 percent were from South America and 7 percent were from Australia. Nearly half (47 percent) hailed from global companies. The bulk of respondents (48 percent) had fewer than 1,000 employees; 23 percent had 1,000 to 9,999 employees and 29 percent had 10,000 or more employees.

Nearly all respondents (96 percent) agreed that a diverse and inclusive environment is of great value to their work. Moreover, the majority (63 percent) said there is a strong business case for diversity.

The report revealed some interesting geographic and gender differences. For example, women were 10 percentage points more likely than men to say there is a strong business case for diversity (71 percent vs. 61 percent). Geographically, only half of South American respondents (50 percent) said there is a strong business case for diversity, which was the lowest percentage of all geographic areas covered by the survey. This might be partly because just 38 percent of South American respondents said they work in diverse teams every day, the lowest percentage of the regions surveyed. By comparison, 52 percent of all respondents said they work in diverse teams every day.
North American respondents were more likely than those from other regions to say that working in a diverse environment is easy (59 percent vs. 48 percent overall).

Benefits of Diversity

When asked to select the benefits of diversity they have experienced personally, more than two-thirds of respondents agreed that diversity does the following:

  • Broadens their horizons (91 percent).
  • Stimulates more lively discussions (81 percent).
  • Creates an organization that shows more respect for each individual (73 percent).
  • Stimulates a process of constant learning (71 percent).
  • Increases the quality of their decisions (69 percent).

A majority of respondents also felt that diversity stimulates social responsibility (66 percent), helps generate new ideas (63 percent), reduces groupthink (62 percent), and helps organizations access new markets or customers (58 percent).

Although there are many positive benefits, respondents said they promoted diversity and inclusion to do the following:

  • Gain access to top talent (63 percent).
  • Promote equal opportunities and fair treatment (60 percent).

Moreover, gender diversity is far and away the most common aspect of diversity to be promoted, the survey found, with 73 percent of respondents indicating they promote gender diversity. Diversity of perspectives and thinking came in second, at 50 percent, followed by nationality, at 44 percent.

Less than one-third of respondents said that their companies have made good progress in promoting diversity and inclusion relative to ethnicity, age, disabilities or sexual orientation. Similarly, less than half of respondents reported good progress in promoting diversity of perspectives and thinking, nationality, industry backgrounds, or educational backgrounds.

“When fostering diversity and inclusion, companies need to take a more rounded view,” said Laurence Monnery, head of the Diversity Council at Egon Zehnder, in a news release. “The key lies in promoting inclusive leaders who can better embed diversity in their organization, processes and culture. This is particularly important as current leadership teams are often far from diverse themselves.”

Information on building a diversity initiative and creating a strategic diversity management plan may be found on SHRM Online.

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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