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Workplace lessons from the election

We live in a country that includes 37 percent minorities. Many political watchers say tapping into that diversity is what led President Obama to victory on Nov. 6. The Obama campaign understood that empowering the nation’s growing minority populations, instead of disenfranchising them, resulted in enthusiasm and action.

For the president, that action gave him another four years in the White House. I’ve written before about the many studies that demonstrate how a diversified boardroom leads to greater corporate earnings. Obama’s victory is another example of the power of inclusion. This is an important election lesson for the workplace.

Business appears to understand the benefits of diversity. A Forbes study of companies with at least $500 million in revenues showed 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace. More people of color and more women are gaining greater access to lower and mid-level positions, but they are not being promoted. They are not being empowered.

As Rinku Sen, executive director of the Applied Research Center, recently pointed out on her blog, “After nearly 50 years of applying antidiscrimination laws, American workplaces are still dominated by white men. Men of color and all women have more access to some jobs than they used to, but the ranks of decision-makers come nowhere close to reflecting our numbers in the nation as a whole.”

People of color and women only represent about 14.5 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of corporate boards among the senior management of Fortune 500 companies. American workplaces continue this structure to their detriment. A Pepperdine University study showed companies with the very best records of promoting women beat the industry profitability average by 116 percent. Workplaces that not only understand studies like this, but also take action to make their C-suite more inclusive, will have an advantage over those who don’t.

Real success in the 21st century comes from ensuring decision-makers, high-potential employees and higher-earning employees also reflect our nation’s diversity. If workplaces don’t start doing more than diversifying just their lower ranks, they could find themselves looking more like America, but not reflecting the true values and consumer desires of America, which can result in delivering the wrong products to the marketplace.

The GOP just lived this. Yes, they gave a spotlight at their convention to certain minority and female leaders – leaders whose policies and attitudes reflected those of their traditional “white” majority. The results were policies or “products” that did not resonate with the American public and that the American public didn’t “buy” on Election Day. Some of the most conservative political thinkers are now speaking up about this lesson, from David Brooks to Norm Ornstein.

This is a lesson not only for America’s losing political party, but also to workplaces if they want to ensure they are not losers in a global economy. Workplaces will serve themselves and their customers if they expand their diversity efforts throughout the leadership ranks of their organization.


Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the communication practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company. 

About Michelle Hicks