As the globalization of the world economy continues to evolve, the subject of diversity has arisen as a high-priority policy issue and point of strategy discussion among board rooms of major companies around the world.
CEOs and their top management teams are paying close attention to research that indicates a diversified management structure, as well as diversity among rank-and-file employees, pays dividends.
For example, a 2018 study completed by the Boston Consultant Group found that companies with highly diverse management teams gained 19% in revenue. The effect is directly attributable to innovation that results from people of different ethnic, national and cultural backgrounds working together.
While a more attractive bottom line tends to be the Holy Grail of most CEOs and their shareholders, an array of other benefits fall out of diversity policies.
According to the Hays Asia Diversity and Inclusion Report issued for 2019/2020, three factors beyond higher profits resulted from diversity. They are:
a. Improved company culture/morale
b. Greater internal innovation
c. More effective leadership
A CEO of a major company who has grappled with the diversity issue more than most is noted Zambian businessman Clever Mpoha.
He founded the supply management and logistics provider SAVENDA Group of companies in the late 1990s when diversity issues were beginning to emerge significantly among the international business community.
As the leader of a Pan-African company that now also operates in a global arena, Mpoha realized early on that making his company successful would require working with experts from around the world.
Although intensely dedicated to providing local, good-paying jobs to Zambian citizens is a priority for Mpoha, he deemed it “imperative to bring in a diversity of experts that would help us achieve our business objectives quickly.”
“Henceforth, we had to bring in Egyptians, Indians, Filipinos, Jews, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Japanese and South Koreans to help us with different and specialized subsidiary investments,” Mpoha said.
Incidentally, Zambia is inherently a nation of extremely high natural ethnic diversity. In fact, according to African Portal, there is an 88% chance that if one selected two Zambians at random on a city street, those two people would belong to different tribes.
Furthermore, Zambia is home to an incredible 70 different spoken languages.
Thus, as the Zambian economy modernizes and increasingly engages internationally, foreign influences are being thrust into what is already an intensely rich milieu of ethnic diversity. Geopolitical observers say African nations will be arguably the most variegated and multifaceted in the world.
While Mpoha notes that embracing diversity has been a key asset in the rapid development of SAVENDA Group, he readily acknowledges that a consciously-embraced policy of diversity comes with considerable growing pains.
For example, the Zambian Ministry of Labor pressures local businesses to limit labor hires from outside. Mpoha said his management team spends considerable time explaining to government bureaucrats why they must fill some local positions with foreign talent.
Then there’s the language barrier. Not only can it be difficult for everyone to literally speak “a common language,” but differences in communication modes tend to exacerbate internal employee conflicts.
Clever Mpoha acknowledges that diversity can sometimes be a double-edged sword. He said too much diversity brings out “the different views and unique experiences of different people.” That makes it difficult to make final decisions.
One last drawback of diversity efforts for SAVENDA Group has been upward pressure on wages. Mpoha states bluntly: “Hiring expatriates doesn’t come cheap. Expatriates are expensive, and the process of hiring them is even more expensive.”
Even so, Clever Mpoha notes that just about all of these factors cut both ways. For example, if hiring some foreign expertise is expensive, non-Zambian labor can be had for costs that are less when hiring from key locations, such as points in Asian regions.
If decision-making is made more difficult by too much diversity, Mpoha said better decisions generally result. A more diverse decision-making team tends to better understand the needs of consumers and a market that trends more Pan-African and international every day. Mpoha said that “decisions borne out of diversity resonate better with people’s needs.”
Consider this perspective offered by Mpoha in his recently published autobiography, “The Business Mind of Clever Mpoha“:
“(Diversity) had helped me create a more attractive company … thanks to diversity, SAVENDA Management Services has become a desirable place to work for an array of talented people. People from different backgrounds want to work with us, knowing that we easily embrace everyone irrespective of race, nationality, background, gender or sex.”
Mpoha said it has been his experience that a diverse workspace had resulted in creating conditions wherein employees work harder – and that’s because they enjoy their work more and have greater incentive to bolster the overall performance of the business. It’s a space where they feel a sense of inclusiveness and belonging.
“I personally find it perplexing to see many business leaders struggle with creating a diverse environment for their business,” Mpoha said. “Enterprises that are not diverse will run out of ideas and lose business. Certainly, it takes commitment and resolve from many stakeholders to make diversity a reality in business — but diversity is the future.”