Does talk of hiring diversity make you cringe?

food for thought
Creative Commons License photo credit: jurvetson

Does talk of hiring diversity make you cringe, or does it mean something positive?

“Diversity” often takes on highly-charged meanings due to personal experiences, historical events and/or substantial media attention.

Fact is, diversity means many things, each of which can strengthen a company – just as the introduction of a foreign substance like reinforcing iron bars (rebar) strengthens a concrete structure, allowing it to bear heavier loads.

How diversity opens new markets

A few years back, my software’s user base was expanding to the north and south. When it reached Canada, we hit a wall because we didn’t support their European-style tax systems.

When we became the only software to support the then three different Canadian national and provincial sales tax structures, it opened a large new market to us. As our Canadian market grew, we were reminded that the province of Quebec requires that business documents presented to the public (our customers’ customers) are available in both French and English. The law doesn’t require that your entire software program be bilingual, however.

Until my software could produce receipts, invoices and other customer-facing paperwork in both French and English, it would be risky for a customer in Quebec to use our software. They’d be taking the chance that someone would ask for a French-language invoice, be refused and then be reported to the agency that monitors such things.

Why risk that? Why take the chance of silently telling their French-speaking customers that they’re “less important” than English-speaking customers?

Internationalization is a big, often costly investment for software companies. We decided to add additional language support, but we did so strategically (rather than globally) by adding the ability for customers to replace the text portions of invoices, receipts and other customer-facing paperwork with the appropriate French word. We didn’t do the translation – we made it easy for our customers to do it so that their paperwork would say exactly what they wanted.

The result? We were the only product for our market that could legally be used in Quebec Рa point that our salespeople were quick to point out when a Qu̩b̩cois prospect compared our software with another.

Our investment paid off again when our customers in primarily English-speaking countries found new non-English speaking customers who were ready to buy. It showed they cared enough to produce paperwork in their customers’ language – whatever it was. Our software made them look good – which made us look good.

Product internationalization, in any form, is one kind of diversity.

You could take the opposite view and limit your market – the opposite of what most business owners want. These changes were made without adding additional language speakers to our staff, so they were relatively inexpensive to implement.

What can you do to expand into other markets and geographical areas?

Diversity solves hiring problems

Diversity in hiring often refers solely to gender and skin color. I think it should take on a far broader meaning that includes remote and/or part-time employees.

Business owners often comment about the difficulty of finding great quality, highly-motivated employees, i.e., “A players”.

Businesses either can’t or won’t take advantage of telecommuting. For those who won’t, fear of telecommuting reflects on management’s attitude, rather than  on the best of breed employee they “couldn’t” hire.

Having staff members in multiple states and time zones isn’t the easiest situation to manage – particularly if your business systems are weak. Yet the payoff of having the best available people doing your work is worth it, even if they’re two time zones away.

What about experienced professionals who choose to work part-time? Would you choose a high-achieving “A player” from 9:30am to 2:45pm three days a week, over someone who perhaps isn’t as skilled or motivated, but is happy to fill a chair from 8am to 5pm?

Think about all the experienced professionals with young kids that they drop off and pick up from school each day. They fit that midday time frame. I have no doubt that there are people in this situation who have exactly the expertise you need.

Another overlooked angle is the diverse range of industry background / culture illustrated by the graphic at the top of the page. People from different cultures or industries can offer additional perspective that, when combined with your existing expertise, might transform your business’ response to your market’s challenges.

Note about today’s post: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

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