Diversity is strength. Some years ago, I sat at dinner with the Head of Human Capital Management of a top global investment bank in New York. Her Bank, one of the top 3 largest investment banks in the world was recruiting fresh graduates from Nigerian Universities for their London offices. That was shocking to me, why would a Bank this big come all the way to Lagos to hire inexperienced, fresh Nigerian graduates, when even in the United States and Europe they only hire from the top Ivy League universities. I asked her and her answer was very revealing. She simply said they were looking for diversity. They were looking for young people who could see things from a different angle, who could bring fresh ideas to the table.
Most successful companies all over the world today identify diversity as one of the most important ingredients for their success and competitiveness. In recent research conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation and published in the December 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review, it was found that “Companies with diversity out-innovate and out-perform others. Employees at these companies are 45% more likely to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market”.
Harvard’s Professor Roy Y.J. Chua also points out in another recent research that cultural diversity helps organizations “improve creative problem-solving in a multicultural context because it promotes the flow of novel ideas and concepts from cultures other than one's own. New ideas from other cultures can serve as raw materials for recombination or stimulate new thoughts”
Interestingly, with close to 250 ethnic groups in the country, diversity is a resource Nigeria has in abundance. Unfortunately, just like many other resources Nigeria has in abundance, it is neither maximized nor even recognized. In fact rather than constructively tap the vast ethnic diversity in the country for positive and constructive use, most Nigerian organizations have allowed nepotism, tribalism and favouritism in the place of the vibrancy and competitiveness that diversity offers.
So, how can your organization maximize Nigeria’s vast ethnic diversity?
The first thing you need to do is to identify the fact that diversity is a source of positive energy for your organization. You cannot afford to just pay lip service to it. Your organization cannot maximize something it does not identify. To maximize diversity in your organization, you need to bring it to the front burner and prioritize it at every point.
Re-orientate your people
Ethnic walls abound around the country. Politicians and other interest groups have successfully used ethnic diversity as a tool of division. You only have to take a look at the drama that characterized the recently concluded elections in the country to see how ethnically divided the country is. So it is more likely that your staff are by default ethnically biased. To re-orientate your people, you need to be deliberate about it. This process will take time, but I promise it is worth it.
Entrench it into your company culture
You need to deliberately construct a system in your organization that will rid the organization of the baggage of tribalism. Call town-hall meetings to address it, add it to your Company Values list, let your line managers and senior management emphasize it, reward it and punish violators publicly. Of course, it goes without saying that your recruitment policy must reflect the fact that you are serious about diversity.
Set high standards for everyone
Should you expect less from certain people because they come from a particular ethnic group or the other? No. To maximize diversity, you need to be fair and equitable. You need to make sure that everybody is held to the same standards of quality. The risk is there that if your organization emphasizes diversity a lot, some ill-informed inferiority complex can ensue where certain people are assumed to have only gotten into the organization because the organization wants diversity not because they have what it takes in and of themselves to thrive in your organization. This can potentially turn the diversity policy on its head. You need to always demand the best of your people, whether they are Hausa or Igbo or Yoruba, whether they are men or women, Christian or Muslim.
You might be tempted to think, why all this trouble, my organization is creative enough without emphasizing the positivity of diversity. The truth is firstly you obviously do not know that until you have tried to entrench diversity. The taste of the diversity pudding is only in its eating. Secondly, nature abhors a vacuum. If you do not actively construct positive diversity into your organization’s culture the wave of tribalism in the country will soon creep into your organization and tribalism, when it takes root is a cancer that is hard to treat.
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