June 17, 2011 | Leadership, Workplace Culture + Practices
Vermont, where I live and work, is one of the least diverse states in the United States. The percentage of the State's population that is non-Hispanic white just recently dropped to 94%, according to the 2010 US Census. When listing the top ten reasons we Vermonters love our state, this is not one of our proudest statistics. Growing a diverse workforce is more difficult without a diverse population. However, it is the mission of our governor to make this better. Governor Peter Shumlin recently spoke at the Summit on Diversity, an event sponsored by the Vermont Human Resources Association. He pledged to send a message to the rest of the states that Vermont is welcoming and inclusive. This is one of his keys to greater economic prosperity and more jobs.
From an industry perspective, I appreciated the Governor’s comments. Improving our workforce diversity, however, can be easier said than done. At NRG Systems, a Vermont manufacturer of wind measurement equipment, 10% of our workforce of 115 is made up of employees from Bosnia, Niger, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Africa—so we are doing better than the state as a whole. Women make up 30% of our workforce, compared to the less than 10% of women in technical fields. We have done pretty well. We could do better. Definitely better.
The importance of embracing diversity
Why is it important to embrace diversity in the workplace? From my perspective, there are three vital reasons.
- It’s the right thing to do. We have been working hard to right many wrongs of the past. That is a worthy goal to aim for.
- It is a necessity. The reality is that, by 2038, researchers claim the United States population will reach 50% non-white. We must learn to work together in all areas of our businesses.
- Diversity is the baseline for innovation and complex problem solving.
Let me elaborate more on this third point. The wind energy industry, and the world as a whole, has grown intensely competitive and sophisticated. To stay in the game, innovation is key. Innovation, according to Dr. Steve Robbins, a leading expert on diversity, is all about problem solving. The best way to solve complex problems is through diversity. Time and time again, Dr. Robbins states, research has shown that if you engage a homogenous group of people against a diverse group of people in reaching a problem-solving exercise, the diverse group will reach a far better solution faster. Why? Because people from different backgrounds, gender, age, race, religion, etc. bring to the table different frameworks and experiences. For all those reasons I listed, it is a business imperative to embrace these perspectives. This may sound obvious, but in many workplaces, it is all too common to find a team of all white males making important decisions about complex problems.
I am spurred to help grow NRG Systems’ diverse workforce, and in turn, help Vermont take a leadership role in bringing a greater sense of inclusion to our state.
Anna Grady is the manager of human resources at NRG Systems.