Making Diversity Your Strategic Weapon

Technology has made it possible to build global companies in half the time and with half the effort than a mere five years ago. Brands of all sizes have an unprecedented opportunity to reach a staggeringly large audience. But to be taken seriously on a global scale, companies need to embrace a different way of doing business.

In almost any industry, international reach is the hallmark of a high-performing business. But going global means moving beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. The key to global expansion isn’t establishing offices in every corner of the world, nor is it the use of any single collaboration or cloud tool — it’s a culture of diversity.

When Yes Means No (Or Maybe, Or Yes)

International business deals not only cross borders, they cross cultures, too. Countries can differ drastically when it comes to work ethic, willingness to take risks, preferred organizational structures, choice working times or blending work and play. Cultural values directly influence the way people negotiate; sometimes the word “maybe” is simply a polite version of “no.” Depending on where you are in the world, your potential business partners may prefer a quick and painless deal, or a drawn out, gradual negotiation.

Solutions that make sense in one context may be entirely wrong in another, and, with a homogeneous, monocultural team, you run the risk of missing the important economic, social and cultural distinctions. Achieving growth in emerging markets like China, India, Russia and Brazil can be a compelling prospect, but success there (or anywhere) requires an intimate understanding of these countries — their cultures, their business practices and their values. (And not just for the sake of avoiding an embarrassing faux pas at dinner.)

As your company expands across geographies, you’re bound to encounter unexpected barriers. But you’ll quickly see how a diverse group of individuals is your most valuable asset in removing these barriers. For instance, we initially questioned some rather pushy sales tactics by one of our team members in Russia. However, as we soon discovered, she was following a widely accepted Russian sales strategy. A less assertive approach wouldn’t have worked in this particular situation. Because she knew how to use this cultural norm to her advantage, she was able to negotiate successfully where an overly cautious approach would likely have failed.

Drawing Strength From Diversity

An ethnocentric approach won’t help you forge meaningful cross-cultural connections. But being open to diversity keeps you humble, honest and curious, and teaches you flexibility and understanding. And the business benefits are real and measurable: Ethnically diverse companies were 35 percent more likely to outperform non-diverse ones in their respective industries.

Major demographic and socio-economic shifts have reshaped the world in the last decade. Building a multinational, multicultural company is a great start, but it’s also important to value what people of different ages and genders bring to the table.

A company draws its strength from its employees — the more diverse the group, the more knowledge, skills and insights they have to offer.

In 2015, millennials became the largest generation in the American workforce. Additionally, people under 25 represent over half of the world’s population. Young employees bring fresh ideas to the table, and they are naturally at ease with new technology. But consider how different countries view seniority. A 35-year-old CEO isn’t all that surprising in London or New York, but a young expat in China, who isn’t familiar with the relationship between credibility and age, will have a difficult time launching a successful business. In China, it is extremely rare for managers to be younger than their employees, and some even lie about their age to avoid uncomfortable situations.

A company that sees value in both bright up-and-comers and experienced professionals will reap the benefits of their varied perspectives. Companies that are more diversified in gender were found to be 15 percent more likely to outperform in their respective industries, and they’re generally more productive and efficient, as well. Moreover, women are becoming the world’s most important consumers and purchasing decision-makers; by 2018, their combined income will be $18 trillion. Having a gender-balanced team will help you understand and tap into this critical market segment.

A company draws its strength from its employees — the more diverse the group, the more knowledge, skills and insights they have to offer.

Business in a Brave New World

A heterogeneous corporate culture — one that integrates different nationalities, gender parity and respect for employees of all ages — has quantifiable benefits. Simply put, it makes sense in business terms.

Diversity has a positive psychological impact on employees, too. Working with people who are different makes us more creative, more diligent and more collaborative — and building diversity into your team from day one establishes a culture that celebrates differences, rewards innovative ideas, sparks curiosity and encourages open-mindedness. It helps to turn your employees into savvy global citizens with the mindset and perspective to thrive anywhere. And this adaptability opens the door to growth in potentially challenging environments.

The global market holds massive growth potential, but it demands a global perspective. The only way to maintain that perspective is by expanding boundaries within. A diverse workforce isn’t just something to make your company look good on paper — it’s the best tool you’ve got to meet the disparate demands of investors, clients, partners and consumers across the world.