Diversity Means Having People Who Think Differently

A broader definition of diversity is having people that think differently.

The U.S. is only five percent of the world’s population, or less.  The market in the U.S. is somewhat saturated in many respects. There are only so many cars you can sell in the U.S.  So it’s become critical to every American company to be aware of the fact that the key to future growth is being able to be a successful multinational, a global company.  We have found out how critical it is for all corporations to have an awareness and an understanding of what is it that consumers and customers around the world think, what they like, their cultural habits, how they behave.

To be able to do that, companies need to have a diverse workforce.  It would be very difficult to really get an understanding of how your products could appeal to someone in India, for example, if there is very little understanding of what that market is, what kind of things people do and like.  And so the importance of having a diverse workforce becomes really critical for the success of any enterprise.  And when people use the word "diversity," often it tends to focus on people of color and right next to that they focus on gender.  But to me, a broader definition of diversity is having people that think differently.  It just so happens that if you’re black or brown you may think differently than if you’re white, but to me it goes beyond just color and race or gender.  Because of the way people grow up, their cultures, their religion, their surroundings, their family, they think differently.  And it’s really very, very important to understand that.

A good example of this is I was running a communication business for Motorola when I was part of their management team.  We had hired an advertising company to advertise our products. The particular product we were advertising was a pager.  Many of you listening probably have no idea what a pager is because the world has changed.  But for those of you who still might occasionally visit a hospital you’ll see doctors still wearing around these little black devices which are called pagers.  But they used to be actually a consumer product.  Teenagers were using it a lot and what you would do is page somebody.  You get a page and you see a message.  You read it. There was no two-way communication but you got a message. It could be your wife paging you just to tell you that she loves you or something like that.  

So we made a campaign to try to penetrate the market in China.  This was back in the late 80s, early 90s.  And the campaign was a young family rushing to the hospital because the wife is about to deliver a baby, and how happy the father was that he had a pager that had allowed him to be there because he got paged when his wife went into the delivery process.  So we felt pretty proud that we had come up with this very nice advertisement and commercial.  But we found out that the Chinese people were offended by it.  The reason they were offended by it is because in China they have the one-child policy and so it’s really hard for a family to have children.  If you have one, that’s it.  So there was a pushback because we had not included a diverse thought in the creation of this advertising campaign.  Had we included people that were locally from China they would have told us you don’t do that.  

It really taught me a hard lesson because it’s something I should have known better, especially as someone who came from another country and another background. I should have been more sensitive to that. This applies to so many other things: how you speak to someone, the colors you use, the phrases you use to refer to them.  All of that is incredibly important.  And that intense need to have diversity in the workplace is incredibly important for the success of the business. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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