Diversity Is a Competitive Advantage
When I was six years old in China, I watched as my Mom packed for our trip to our new home in America. I remember her pausing to look at me and saying, “Remember, even though we are moving to Gold Mountain, you are and always will be Chinese. You’ll need to work twice as hard because we are immigrants."
In Cantonese, Gold Mountain is a slang name for America: a glimmering land of opportunity for all. It was derived from the time in the 19th century when thousands of Chinese ventured to find a new life during the gold rush on the West Coast. Like those before us, we too were leaving to find our dream in a new country. America represented opportunity and freedom of expression. As we anticipated our new life, my Mom impressed upon me to always remember our Chinese culture and perspective.
After a few years of hard work, my parents were able to purchase a home. We were still newcomers, finding our way in a foreign culture, when one day, there was a knock at the door. We were surprised to find a stranger on our porch with her two children and a freshly baked apple pie. She kindly instructed her children to play with my sister and me, and then she went off to gesture-communicate with my Mom, who didn’t speak English.
I was amazed that someone so different from us could seek us out for such a warm welcome. We were so happy to have new friends and felt welcomed not only in the neighborhood, but America.
These memories of my childhood have stayed with me over the years as I went to school, earned my undergraduate degree, and started my own design firm. My immigrant experience brings a diverse viewpoint to the work force, and I have come to believe that this kind of diversity is a huge advantage in business.
America is a place where you can disagree in class or a meeting and still get a beer afterward. Different cultures and perspectives are advantages and not hindrances. I count my diverse experience as one of my greatest strengths and key to my success as a 1st generation American. I believe it is the greatest strength of the American brand.
America’s sweeping Brand Promise to people is freedom, diversity and opportunity. Out of the three, diversity is absolutely fundamental to the ongoing success of the American brand.
Look at our national icon, the Statue of Liberty. With her raised torch lighting the way, she beckons those from outside of our borders with the promise of the pursuit of happiness in exchange for hard work.
Freedom to be yourself and hold your views without oppressive consequences, and the huge opportunities that are available to build a successful life, are key to America’s greatness. This environment also makes it easier to start a business within this innovative culture that is conductive to creativity. Diversity gives America a competitive advantage.
But how does diversity work to make America so successful? By giving people the freedom to work together, be themselves, and have a different opinion, it promotes creativity and hard work.
Studies show that a homogeneous group hinders creativity and problem solving: when given important information by a member of your own group, you will remain complacent and comfortable thinking that the group shares the same information. But when given information by someone who is of a different race, age, gender or political opinion, you will work hard to anticipate their point of view, be more diligent in problem solving and be more open minded. (Scientific American, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, 2014).
This process results in a positive feedback loop: higher net returns due to a diverse workforce result in a happier work culture and higher returns. When businesses hire a diverse workforce they create success for the long term. All of this contributes to a significant American competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
Due to changes in immigration policies over the last 50 years, America will soon be more diverse than at any other time in its history. This change should be celebrated as an opportunity and will most certainly strengthen the American brand.
As you think about what your own brand stands for, you can structure your brand to attract and cultivate diversity. I believe it has to be intentional and something you strive for in every hire, in every meeting, in every product decision to get to the best solution. For instance, when your brand is created around a core value like diversity of thought, you will set up your experiences to encourage creativity and collaboration. Your people and product will attract diverse customers who see themselves in your brand, and feel more comfortable for it. Like that apple pie my neighbor so kindly delivered all those years ago.
As global business continues to be more competitive, no other country has the advantage of increasing diversity within their populations. With foreign born leaders at Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, and Chobani, and companies such as HP and General Mills striving to hire diverse people of diverse cultural backgrounds, companies are increasingly acknowledging the business power of diversity and incorporating it into their brand strategies. We should be optimistic that the American brand will continue to strengthen with increasing diversity and the most successful brand that the world has ever seen.