Diversity During Economic Down Cycles

Tough times require getting tough, and streamlining a company or organization’s operations to perform not only efficiently but in a way that ensure its survival are, well, the business of business. However, when the belt has to be tightened, and a company reacts by cutting or thinning its diversity initiatives, unfortunately, the belt becomes more than just tightened and verges on cutting off circulation completely, leaving the company open to perception by those publics who most likely can serve as a transfusion to a weakening bottom line.

Fortunately today (as was not the case so very recently), diversity initiatives have proven a mainstay and far too effective for companies to slash – especially by those companies whose business objectives are tied to its diversity and inclusion initiatives. In fact, quite the opposite can be said – fortifying diversity initiatives might be a better option for companies considering backing off their diversity budget, as this segment of the company’s operations could actually help it recognize and then tap into existing or emerging market opportunities by capitalizing on the diversity group’s unique cultural and bi-lingual expertise, thus potentially seeing the company through the rough times, protecting it from the bad, or better – elevating the company to a position far better than it previously had been.

Companies also have another huge incentive to rethink salvaging its diversity initiatives – the value-added benefit created from retaining these programs: employee gratification. Studies show that when an employee feels an employer is committed to them and the employer values their work, the company is rewarded with loyalty, and this loyalty correlates directly to a company’s profits. As successful businesses have seen, employee gratification radiates positive ripples throughout a company: retention is solidified, absenteeism is decreased, there are fewer complaints and lawsuits, corporate culture is improved, employee well-being is enhanced, and quite simply, when people like where they work and the company they work for, they work harder. The result? Bigger bottom lines.

Another very strong argument for companies considering making cuts to its diversity objectives during a sluggish economy is these initiatives aren’t expensive to maintain. While keeping relatively low budgets, companies can still have a successful program. Why? Because the more substantive parts of diversity initiative cost only ‘time.’ Things like mentoring programs, affinity groups, employee networks, creating a culture of fairness – all are invaluable and infinite resources. In addition, these endeavors pay off two-fold for the company because these programs also foster broader relationship boundaries which creates a larger pool of talent from which to recruit, a supplier base that will bring better value, stronger community ties and more options for the company. Simultaneously, a company’s branding can be enhanced or improved.

With the shift of minorities into the majority status, in the future it’s less likely diversity initiatives will end up on the chopping block when there are economic crises, as diversity IS the market. In fact, as diversity quickly becomes the ‘landscape,’ companies are moving beyond mere diversity awareness training, and instead implementing programs to propel its diversity workforce into more significant roles within the company.

The benefits created through embracing, maintaining and strengthening a diverse workforce, including how companies now interlock their structures with diversity and inclusion initiatives, stand to reinforce the simple fact a company has everything to gain from protecting diversity and inclusion initiatives, and everything to lose when it does not.

Lourdes Hassler, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs’ CEO, is currently in her second year heading the organization as well as publisher of the organization’s recently launched research endeavor, The Business Journal of Hispanic Research.