America's Demographic Shift and 7 Ways Leaders Can Leverage It

04/12/2014 03:06AM

African Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics made up more than one third of the U.S. population in 2010 and the numbers have only continued to rise.  By 2050, minorities will represent 54% of America; yet most American business leaders remain uninformed about what diversity means to business, leaving them unable to inspire innovation in their diverse workforce and multiply the equity of their brands.

One need only look around to see the growing visibility of African American, Asian Pacific Islander, Hispanic and other minority groups in American society.  Even the newly-crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri, is for the first time of Indian descent.  Her parents are immigrants who came to the United States from India in 1981. Davuluri’s talent during that portion of the competition: a classical Bollywood fusion dance.

Another recent example happened on August 28, when tens of thousands of people marched on the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original march on Washington and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Rev. Martin Luther King. The event featured members of the King family, former presidents and current lawmakers, civil rights leaders, and other prominent figures – including President Obama who, like many, talked of recapturing the mood of that day in 1963 – one of equality, diversity and inclusion – when 250,000 people marched on the nation’s capital.

Popular culture is also reflecting upon our diversity, especially of late with compelling stories of the African American experience.  “The Help” began the trend in 2011, followed by “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained” in 2012.  Currently, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” tells the real life story of Cecil Gaines, who served in the White House under eight consecutive presidents, forced by his time and place in history to pay silent witness to the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affecting him, his family and the American people.

This past weekend, the historical drama “12 Years a Slave” kicked off the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, a film based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.

African American History Month has been celebrated in February since 1970 (expanded from Black History Week), but the contributions of other groups are equally celebrated throughout the year.  May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and a highlight this year were images shared on Flickr from the National Archives that relate to the Asian Pacific American experience.   Among the photos and documents is a copy of The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, showing how long and hard the road to diversity and inclusion has been – even as we still have a long way to go.

Currently the country is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15.  This makes it a good time to get toKnow Your Hispanics, as culture becomes the new currency for growth and Hispanics in particular continue to grow in numbers faster than any other group.   Increasing productivity and sales will depend on how well you know your Hispanic employees and consumers.  There are 50.5 million people of Hispanic origin living in the U.S., with a purchasing power expected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2015.  Yet despite these numbers, a Pew Hispanic Center surveyin 2010 revealed that 74% of people either did not know of or did not believe there was one important Hispanic leader in the entire country.

Whether you’re a corporate executive, department head or small business owner – whether you’re dealing with employees, co-workers or directly with consumers – those uncomfortable with the new role that diversity management plays in the workplace and the marketplace must recognize that it is no longer a choice.  The demographic shift in America demands it – demands that the products and services we deliver connect in culturally relevant ways with the changing face of America’s new consumers and the workforce that is creating them.

Here are 7 ways leaders can leverage America’s demographic shift and   beat  their competitors to the punch:

1.  Become More Culturally Intelligent

Culture is quickly becoming the new universal language in America.   Cultural intelligence (not just translating English into someone’s native language) is critically important to business, leadership and the advancement of humanity.   Embracing diversity is not only ethical; it’s the right thing to do/must-do to be domestically and globally competitive.  Don’t guess.  Be mindful of who your target audience really is because cultural sensitivity is critical.

2.  Get Comfortable Talking About Changing Demographics

My organization just launched a new educational platform to train leaders, business owners and department managers in getting to know their Hispanic employees and consumers.  This interactive and virtual classroom is a great resource  for those looking to get more comfortable with and knowledgeable about the fastest growing minority in America.

3.  Recognize That Human Capital and Business Development Must Become Interdependent 

Historically, diversity has been viewed only through a Human Capital lens focused on the “representation of numbers.” Leaders can no longer ignore that diversity represented in talent must now be translated into the design of new business models, and that these new models must authentically serve the changing demographics and growing diverse populations in the marketplace.   Monetizing cultural capitalism  is the new normal and the brands that do with dominate their industry for years to come.

4.  Create a Best Place to Work Environment

When the values, beliefs and foundational core of the workplace are aligned with the diverse representation of cultures in the workforce, you will find that loyalty, retention, engagement and productivity increase.    Don’t segregate, integrate.   This is how trust is built and performance flourishes.

5.  Promote Authentic Best Practices vs. Inauthentic Initiatives

6.  Think Profit Center, Not Cost Center

When you view diversity as your new business growth enabler, opportunities will multiply as talent productivity increases and market share grows.   When leaders begin to see the real value of diversity as a growth enabler, it will shift from being a traditional cost center, to a critical time-sensitive profit center.

7.  Focus on Significance, Not Just Success

Leaders that are successful at sustaining a diverse culture in the workplace and earning culturally relevant relationships with diverse consumers are the ones who focus on the long-term impact for their business, not just the short term success stories that quickly lose momentum.  Define the narrative for the role diversity will play in helping you grow your business.  Define a measureable matrix and closely monitor and manage the outcomes.  It takes time and effort, but soon you will be defining the “diversity business case study” for success and significance in your business and industry.

The 21st century leader must change the current context and conversation about diversity as the essential catalyst for top and bottom line growth.   We must break down barriers and recognize that the new workplace and consumer base  are being  redefined by the demographic shift – a shift that can serve as a powerful source of strength to help America’s corporations:

  • Strengthen its global competitiveness
  • Prepare organizations for global market expansions
  • Stimulate job creation and economic growth
  • Acknowledge that humanity stimulates innovation
  • Accept that culture is the new currency for growth

Let’s all start getting comfortable with the demographic shift by getting to know the new and diverse faces that make up our workplaces, consumers groups – and our national mosaic.

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