Benefit Corporations: Diversity is more than Affirmative Action


Throughout the 20th century, most businesses appeared homogenized. But over the years, huge demographic changes occurred in our workforce. The people inside today's businesses resemble nothing like those employees just a few decades ago. 

The most obvious difference: You will find greater gender and ethnic diversity across most industries.  And it is clearly apparent in the Benefit Corporations we have met. These businesses, following the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, Profit recognize the importance of the first P, people, and subsequently are often more diverse or proactively seek to be more reflective of the community they serve.

What might not be so obvious is that diversity is a major contributing factor for business growth and success. In a recent study conducted by McKinsey Group, the researchers found 10 positive economic correlations resulted when diversity is present in a company. These include:

  • Increased innovation

  • Greater pool of capable talent

  • More satisfied customers and yes,

  • An increase in profits.

According to a research study done by Deloitte, the two most important areas that correlate with the highest performing companies pinpoint inclusion and diversity. These companies are:

  • 2.9 times more likely to identify and build leaders

  • 1.8 times more likely to be change-ready

  • 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders

Cedric Herring, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, states “A diverse workforce yields superior outcomes over homogeneity because progress and innovation depends less on lone thinkers with high intelligence than on diverse groups working together and capitalizing on their individuality.”

And, Benefit Corporations, as cause-driven, community-oriented businesses, recognize the most important diversity strategy is held within the concepts of WELCOME and RESPECT! They do not think of diversity as Affirmative Action. It is not just about recruiting and hiring people who reflect the growing diversity of our country and then proclaiming the company is diverse.  

The key is the concept of INCLUSIVITY – the practices and policies that make ALL employees feel welcome and respected.  

We have heard many stories from our racial and ethnically diverse friends who were initially excited about being given the opportunity to work for a large company with little diversity.  But, these same folks quickly became disillusioned when realizing that they were the outsider, the “token” representative from a specific community, receiving little respect, support or connection with leadership or other employees. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Small businesses including Benefit Corporations are genuinely sincere about their commitment to people and strive to make them feel welcome. How? By listening, honoring and validating their ideas, opinions and beliefs, as a start to truly demonstrate inclusivity.

If you’re interested in doing the same in your business, here is a great resource to help you from Entrepreneur Magazine.  And here are a few tips we have learned along the way:

1.       Look at where you get your sources of information. Try to ensure it is balanced to incorporate diverse viewpoints

2.    Actively seek out different viewpoints when you are in meetings or problem-solving. Solicit ideas and perceptions from ALL employees.

3.       Lead by example.  Utilize positive communications, both verbal and nonverbal, with diverse employees – to create a culture of trust.

4.       Support the launch of “affinity groups,” small, informal, self-started employee groups for people with common interests, background and issues.

5.       Proactively reach out to employees from diverse backgrounds with mentoring and career growth opportunities.

6.       Check in frequently with employees reflecting more diverse communities, asking how you can improve to better support them. Listen and follow-through whenever possible.

7.       Consider offering cultural competency workshops to employees.

Embracing the beauty and creativity of people from diverse cultures is a foundational pillar of Benefit Corporations and helps create healthy individuals, businesses and the community.


MaryAnne Harmer