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The NetSuite office in Waterloo, Ont. (Xiaopu Fung)
The NetSuite office in Waterloo, Ont. (Xiaopu Fung)

Why building a diverse work force is worth the effort Add to ...

Fostering diversity in the work force is more than just a noble and altruistic goal, it’s a bottom-line imperative for any company planning for growth.

A diverse work force can improve employee loyalty, reduce turnover and help to reach a broader base of customers, while the wider range of perspectives can have a significant impact on everything from customer service to product design. That says nothing of the positive impact that cross-cultural communication has on the communities we live in and the world at large.

That’s what makes addressing diversity early on so important. A company that proactively and deliberately attracts a diverse work force at an early stage can hard wire that diversity into its corporate culture. It is then able to maintain and scale that already tried-and-tested diverse culture as it becomes a global entity, whether it grows organically or through mergers and acquisitions.

At TribeHR, a cloud human capital management company founded in 2009 and acquired 18 months ago by global cloud-based business management suite provider NetSuite, we’ve nearly tripled the headcount in our Kitchener, Ont., office to 66 people over the last 12 months. Amid that growth, we remain committed to a diverse workplace. Our employees in Kitchener hail from all over North America as well as China, the Czech Republic, India, Pakistan, Portugal, Sweden and the UK. We are primarily focused on software development at this office and we are proud to have a higher percentage of female technical staff – 29 per cent – compared to publicly shared estimates from Facebook (where 15 per cent of technical staff are female), Google (17 per cent) and Twitter (10 per cent).

Here are some of the things we’ve learned about fostering a diverse workplace.

Be deliberate about diversity

Our higher percentage of female developers is because we’ve been very thoughtful and deliberate about diversity. We’ve made a point of putting more effort into attracting and welcoming female developers and providing them strong opportunities to succeed. For example, we make sure we include one or more of our female developers at every recruitment initiative we do and that we have at least one female interviewer on our technical panel interviews.

Provide new hires with a soft landing

While the vast majority of our employees are long-time Canadian residents, we make a special effort for newcomers to the country – we pair them with a local buddy, and have engaged an external service specifically to welcome the employee and their family to the community. This program helps them with obtaining ID cards, engaging in community associations, and provides advice on where to live and attend school.

Extend diversity to your social events

We want everyone to feel welcome attending our activities outside of work, so we ensure we have a diverse array of work-related events – athletic or entertainment, alcohol-free or drink-friendly, adult only or family and weekend or weekday. We have run events ranging from hackathons to baseball games, to circus classes, to pot-lucks, to golf lessons and even Arnold Schwarzenegger movie marathons. It’s easy to fall into a groove; it’s much harder to make sure that you cover all possible options.

Don’t leave people out

Often, events are designed that make it difficult for parents of young children to attend. Other times, family friendly events really just feel like kids-only events (children’s holiday party, anyone?). We gave ourselves the target of creating events that don’t marginalize distinct communities, so when prepping inclusive events, we welcome employees with young children to attend by employing daycare workers to look after the kids rather than run two events – one for adults and a separate family only event. This ensures that the parents don’t feel relegated to child care, and the non-parents don’t feel out-of-place.

Embrace diversity in your workplace design

We designed our front foyer to recognize all our employees and to act as a home away from home for our diverse work family. As opposed to celebrating homogeneity (i.e. just a company mission and logo), we instead celebrate our many individuals – the walls are full of photos of staff at our social events and we have a mural of a thought bubble full of our employees’ hobbies, interests and backgrounds [see photo].

Establish and adhere to a core set of values

Early on, we defined the type of company we wanted to be, and documented our values to help employees know what we expected from them. We have a set of cultural values we expect everyone to espouse no matter which background they come from. The values are: badassery (an internal description for excellent performance, that we define as the unique combination of drive, velocity, ingenuity and agility), courage, design, empathy, honesty, humour, knowledge sharing and teamwork. The words are important, but the definitions and examples we track are more so. By articulating examples along with the values, we help employees with diverse experiences better understand how they can best engage and interact with colleagues.

Don’t shy away from having difficult conversations

A lot of companies do a great job at sharing content internally relevant to employees’ jobs but they don’t tackle tough issues like discrimination, bias and management challenges. The only way to build a really strong diverse work force is to establish a really strong foundation of respect where transparency and honest conversations are the necessary first steps. This requires holding managers accountable to honesty, and a culture of trust that’s led by example at the very top of the organization.

We hold a monthly all-hands meeting where one of the elements is sharing of important recognition earned in the past month. In our previous meeting, I shared a great example of our core value, honesty. A manager brought up to me that I had overlooked a religious holiday observed by some of our team members when selecting a date for an event. Although it was too late to change the event, we were able to improve our process to ensure it wouldn’t be repeated.

When I shared the story, it gave me the chance to not only apologize to those employees, but also share the process change and to recognize the manager for stepping up and sharing feedback. I had several employees comment afterward that they were grateful for the example and for the change.

Joseph Fung is vice-president of HCM Products at global cloud-based business management suite vendor NetSuite.

@GlobeSmallBiz on Twitter.

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