Diversity Can Raise ROI

November 4, 2005
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GRANDVILLE — A company that doesn’t create and manage a plan that integrates work-force diversity into the business will miss out on opportunities for creating new ideas and discovering innovative methods of increasing a firm’s bottom line.

With work-force demographics changing radically and the workplace going more global, Diversity Management Strategies CEO Skot Welch said studies have shown that domestic employers who only hire people most like them lack the necessary tools to stay competitive and to become an employer of choice for many.

“To the degree that an organization has a homogeneous work force is to the degree that it also stifles any potential creativity or any further additional innovation. So it’s not an issue of is it going to happen, in terms of a diverse work force, it is happening,” said Welch.

“And to have a plan is to not just let it happen by accident. If you don’t have a plan for it and it just happens, what ends up happening is you have this treasure but you have not really cashed in on its value yet.

“By value I mean different perspectives, different mindsets and different ways to look at product development,” he added.

For Welch, diversity in the work force isn’t only about race or gender. It’s about a lot of things: a person’s background, his or her job specialty, and whether he or she is disabled.

“You have different orientations, a lot of different diversity,” he said. “We encounter organizations that have not really properly defined what diversity is, and sometimes each is encouraged (by us) to look at this as a sustainable process, not something to turn on and off.”

The first step that DMS takes with a company interested in assessing the diversity of its work force is to listen. Welch, Laura Maslowski, and Tom Melcher, the company’s founder, will sit down with a firm’s executives to hear them describe the range of employees they have and where they’d like to go.

“We have a proprietary assessment that assesses their diversity process, not their culture, not their behaviors. We look to see if they have a process in place to manage a diverse work force. It’s based upon global quality standards because we look at diversity as a quality initiative,” said Welch.

The DMS assessment is modeled after ISO 9000 and the Malcolm Baldrige approaches to Total Quality Management. The data generated comes from all levels of the firm and can be used to identify gaps between operating units, geographic regions and practices within the company.

“Organizations shouldn’t feel bad if they have nothing in place; we can help them do that. If organizations are very mature, we can guarantee that we can actually take a great program and make it better,” said Welch.

Welch said that what DMS has generally found since 1996 — the year of its inception — is that many clients have best practices already in place, but for a variety of reasons aren’t able to properly communicate those practices.

“The other thing we’ve seen is that some organizations want a quick fix, and when you’re talking about process, you’re talking about long-term,” he said.

Turning the assessment into a workable process usually takes from 36 to 48 months. But the timeline does vary because no two firms are exactly alike. DMS clients include Meijer Inc., Steelcase Inc., D&W Food Centers, Spartan Stores, Spectrum Health and Davenport University.

Even though having a well-managed diverse work force can add to a firm’s morale, Welch said DMS aims to accomplish much more than that.

“We are very much focused on the business process, not just the touchy-feely, this feels good,” he said. “Although that is good, organizations want to know what is their return on investment should they take the time to develop a diversity plan.”    

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