Vijay Eswaran, a prominent Asian thought leader, accomplished author, and the Founder and Executive Chairman of the QI Group of Companies, recently opened up about his perspective on the importance of diversity in the workplace. Mr. Eswaran covered many topics, including how his own past influenced the man he is today, how businesses can adopt diversity within their operations, and why he believes that emphasizing diversity in the workforce can be beneficial to any business’s bottom line.
Influenced as A Child
Eswaran, who was raised in Malaysia but is of Indian descent, comes from a background that has always featured diversity. As a child, Vijay often moved from one city to the next as a result of his father’s work with the government. This experience gave him early exposure to a wide range of cultures and faiths. By the time he graduated high school, he had attended nine different schools. Following high-school, Eswaran moved to the UK where he graduated with a degree in social-economics and earned a professional accreditation from the Chartered Institute in Management Accountants (CIMA); he then pursued his MBA from Southern Illinois University.
After graduation, Eswaran worked in the US and Canada before returning to Asia, where he has worked in many countries including the Philippines and Hong Kong.
Throughout his life, Vijay Eswaran has become what he refers to as a “global citizen.” And his years of experience have taught him how a diverse workplace is more likely to flourish, something Vijay has covered at length through his remarks at the World Economic Forum and other prominent platforms.
Establishing Diversity in the Workplace
The QI Group managing board is composed of 13 directors of 7 different nationalities; the employees represent more than 50 nationalities; and the highly multi-generational demographic ranges in age from 19 to 65, at around 46% women. Eswaran says that this diverse group of individuals, who represent a global presence, has established the core of his success.
In order to achieve diversity, however, a company must shift their mindset to one that adopts and understands the benefits of implementing such change. Once this philosophy is established at the core of their business strategy, only then can change happen.
According to Eswaran, adopting this mindset, especially when a company is managing a large team, introduces varied experiences, approaches, and perspectives that will help uncover new opportunities. Through accepting a consultative platform among executives and employees where every voice counts, companies can experience immense benefits.
“I am a proponent of management by consensus. This is often misconstrued because people think they need to convince a large number of individuals in order to make important decisions. It’s not about convincing others. It’s about consulting. If you want to create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation then you need to allow diversity of opinions. It’s not about giving up control but about making an informed decision. The process can be long, but it’s worth it. It’s participative governance at its best, and it builds and fosters a sense of ownership. “
Another aspect of implementing such change also relies on a company’s ability to create an environment where “employees feel like they are valuable shareholders.” If they have a sense of ownership, they will be more creative in providing solutions that promote operational growth. Eswaran summarizes: “Find the right people and give them ownership of what they do. You need a Sherpa to find your way to the top of a mountain. The best thing you can do for your business is to turn your employees into Sherpas.”
Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace
The secret of diversity is that it is the “catalyst” for disruption and innovation, ultimately creating a better business. This is because creativity and innovation go hand in hand. Groups whose members come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences come up with more imaginative ideas and solutions when problem solving. Eswaran believes that this simple fact is what drives business growth, both operational and financial. In fact, McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity report found corporations that embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.
One factor in this profitability component is the idea that by promoting diversity and giving employees a voice, companies experience reduced employee turnover; this is one of the most wasteful expenses of many businesses. In addition, companies with a highly diversified workforce can expect higher financial returns on average than other companies in their field.
Flexibility and versatility are quickly becoming keys to success for companies, and even governments looking to thrive. The best way to achieve that success is by embracing a diverse environment. In order to take full advantage of the benefits of diversity, not only in our lives, but in our work as well, governments and companies will need to start practicing what they preach. For all institutions, there will need to be a high level of accountability and action toward clear goals. It is a common problem that countries and corporations miss the mark with their diversity initiatives, oftentimes with severe consequences.
A common mistake is to simply put quotas on hiring of certain social groups or ethnicities in prominent positions to satisfy diversity requirements. However, without authenticity and a true culture of inclusion, the true potential for growth and financial gain will never be realized. Societies and businesses are going to need to approach diversity with a genuine attitude if they want to reap the benefits. In today’s interconnected world, innovation is taking place at a pace never seen before. Embracing diversity is the most effective way to ensure the ability to constantly adapt, adjust, and accommodate. This way, institutions will evolve rather than find themselves relegated to the dustbin of history.