Why B2B Companies Should Balance Diversity With Humility

Published: March 27, 2018

lisa richerDecades of research show that diverse companies outperform their more uniform peers. However, little attention has been given to the challenge of creating a diverse yet unified team. Customer experiences at B2B companies suffer when employees become more invested in their differences rather than their shared purpose.

Diversity is a competitive edge that requires balance. In my experience, humility and the practices that support it are key to harnessing diversity.

Diverse Definitions

Diversity can be defined in many ways, whether it be race, gender, age, etc. Still, the benefits of cultivating a diverse workspace are undeniable no matter what definition you use.

The latest research from McKinsey shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability. Likewise, those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 33% more likely to achieve above-average profitability.

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Another study from the Boston Consulting Group assessed diversity using six parameters: gender, age, national origin, career path, industry background and education. Companies with above-average diversity composites were found to have scored significantly higher for innovation revenues and EBIT (Earnings Before Interest & Tax) margins. 

How many diversity dimensions matter? Which are the most significant? And why do diverse companies perform better?

Researchers aren’t sure. Some say diversity may improve innovation, decision-making and objectivity. Others think it makes companies more attractive to talented people, enables teams to empathize better with customers and can provide other unseen advantages.

It’s hard to isolate the variables of diversity, let alone define the word. Diversity introduces different experiences, skillsets and perspectives into a company – each of which comes with advantages and challenges.

When Difference Crystallizes

Let’s say you maximize diversity in gender, age, origin, career path, industry background and education to cover your bases. The data says your B2B company should perform better. Instead, everyone clashes and teams can’t execute effectively. What went wrong?

At the digital marketing agency R2integrated, our clients come from all walks of life and target a variety of audiences. To understand what our clients and their customers need, we need diversity. However, people with diverse industry backgrounds can sometimes be very set in their ways. Perhaps you’ve heard statements like:

  • “I’ve always done sales this way.”
  • “Why would the client want that?”
  • “This is the only logical way to do it.”

Diversity can self-destruct. It needs to be balanced with centripetal forces – values, policies and norms that pull everyone towards a central aim. A culture of humility can balance the creative tension.

Diversity can give people the confidence to share a viewpoint that diverges from the norm, meanwhile humility makes people willing to listen and learn from those viewpoints. It’s a desire to see coworkers as potential teachers and experts in unfamiliar areas. The common refrain, “Strong opinions, weakly held,” might be the best way to capture the balance between diversity and humility. Believe deeply in your unique perspective, but when the evidence refutes it, let go.

The question is: what can leaders in a B2B business do to encourage the ideal combination of diversity and humility?

A Practice For Unity

A simple PowerPoint presentation is not enough to converge diversity and humility. Instead, try these approaches:

  1. Share goals; share rewards. At R2integrated, we focus on a shared goal: delivering high-quality work that cultivates ecstatic, loyal clients. One way we encourage that goal is by giving everyone an opportunity for financial rewards that are tied to the company’s overall performance. Everyone succeeds together and there’s no bonus for attacking your coworker to make yourself look better. Joint financial incentives help encourage humility and harness diversity towards a common purpose. 
  2. Speak one “language.” Onboarding at R2integrated includes high-level training on the services we offer and the marketing technologies we integrate. As a result, we can talk about our offerings with clarity and precision. Individuals still have their own “swim lanes” – areas of expertise – but they also understand how other swimmers contribute to the company’s success. If we share a common work “language,” we can reason through differences of opinion and be humble about our knowledge (or lack thereof).
  3. Have fun together. Each R2integrated office has a Fun Committee organized around upholding a work hard, play hard environment. Our common interests shape these experiences and give the team shared memories in which differences don’t matter. When we have our annual Super Bowl Chili Cook-off, Halloween Costume Contest or celebrate baseball season’s opening day across offices, we connect as people – not titles in a company. It’s humbling to be reminded that the people we disagreed with days ago are fun, likable people with good intentions.

Diversity In Balance

Many leaders view diversity as intrinsically valuable and a sign that people are achieving their potential despite historical and cultural barriers.

Study after study has found diversity to be financially rewarding, but let’s not ignore the challenges of leading a diverse team nor downplay the humility needed to appreciate different perspectives. To the extent that a company embraces diversity, it must also focus on drawing people together.

Lisa Richer is the VP of HR at R2integrated, where she is responsible for driving a cohesive employee experience that aligns with corporate goals, company culture, and talent acquisition and retention strategies.

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