Companies without cultural or ethnic diversity will not survive

"I am aware of all Internet traditions." Most of you will read that statement as a mere procession of words. To a small number of you, it's the latest sensation in Internet phraseology; the blogger's equivalent of, "Where's The Beef?"

"I am aware of all Internet traditions." Most of you will read that statement as a mere procession of words. To a small number of you, it's the latest sensation in Internet phraseology; the blogger's equivalent of, "Where's The Beef?"

The phrase, created by a conservative commenter at a liberal blog, was instantly mocked and spread virally to other sites, tailored to serve as captions to preexisting viral "memes" like Dramatic Chipmunk. Soon, some savvy company will probably use it as a marketing slogan to position it as hip to the early adopters online. It will likely come from a company that has someone on top of the themes or "memes" in the early-adopter culture.

Think about the days of Dallas and Roots. Now think about just how fractured the cultural landscape is today. Not only do consumers have more choices, but they are consuming them in more places and at different times. The ways in which people interact with culture leads every single person to have his or her own language and timelines. Even when there is a true mass-market product, our consumption habits affect how we view it. Some people, for example, love the show Lost, but wait until the most recent season comes to DVD to actually watch it.

This unique moment in our history - this movement to niche from mass market - requires companies to strive for diversity in the workplace, both ethnic and cultural. If you interview a prospective employee and find yourself thinking, "We don't have anyone like this guy [or girl]," you should offer him or her the job immediately (unless his or her uniqueness was a discomforting tendency to say nothing and stare angrily at you).

In the June 22 New York Times Magazine, writer Alex Witchel lauded the AMC show Mad Men for its portrayal of fictional advertising firm Sterling Cooper, a cloistered den of prejudicial WASPs. The joke, she asserted, was on the agency, as it was the last vestige of the monocultural firm. Its naive of the emerging consumption power of all walks of people - its basic inability to appeal to markets it disdained - will be its downfall. This has long been a strong argument for ethnic diversity, and it's also applicable to cultural diversity.

Companies often cite the importance of a cultural fit for prospective employees, but this might cause companies to hire the wrong person. While any prospective employee should be able to observe the most rudimentary of cultural mores (tolerance, hard work, dedication, and disinclination to say nothing and stare at his or her boss angrily), companies should not just be looking for someone who might be interested in joining the softball team. If you already have a softball team, it's likely that you already have enough softball aficionados.

Companies that hire too many similar people (or, worse, approach ethnic, gender, and cultural diversity as a mere quota) risk having too many blind spots.

Think of it this way: If you don't have an employee or colleague whose interests, conversational dialect, and cultural perspective completely befuddles you, then your company is at risk.

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