If you've clicked on this article, you have an interest in diversity -- and building on that interest may be a great way for you to stand out from the crowd, regardless of your race or ethnicity.
Strong relationships are based on a concurrence of ideals, interests and ethics. Employers are looking for employees who will fit in with their interests and direction. You're most likely to get a job in a company that mirrors your style and how you think.
When executives catch on to an effective new management trend, they become passionate about it. There's a good reason -- significant new disciplines can become competitive factors that make or break a company. Within the past five years, diversity has generated the same type of enthusiasm companies had when supply-chain management and total-quality management were first introduced. Employers who have recognized the bottom-line results have made diversity a top-down imperative with aggressive measurement and goals.
Why? For people of color, household income, education and their share of the total population have increased dramatically in the past 10 years. The growth rate of multiethnic households also is increasing. Instead of being easy to ignore, these markets are becoming key consumer segments, driving growth and sales in many industries.
As with any new strategic direction, not all companies are going to catch on. There always will be those that come late to changes in the marketplace -- that's why less than half of the companies that were included in the Fortune 500 in 1980 exist today.
So how does this help you? If you're seeking a job in a company that values diversity, you can become a diversity champion. Regardless of your race or ethnicity, it will show that you are on board with the strategic direction the company has taken.
First, you'll need to know whether diversity is a priority for the employer. It's easy to learn about a company's values through its Web site. Questions to ask include:
Is there a link to diversity or diversity-related information on the home page (or at least within one click of the home page)?
Does a simple search for the keyword "diversity" yield relevant results?
Is the diversity information up-to-date?
Does the site use multicultural images?
Does the site offer diversity information in its career area?
Does the site offer information for diverse suppliers?
Does the site highlight company activities that assist diverse communities?
If your research yields no diversity interest, you may want to consider walking away -- especially if you're a diversity enthusiast. Diversity is like a canary in a coal-mine -- if a company is oblivious to the substantial and dramatic changes in the U.S. marketplace, what else is it ignoring? This isn't a good sign.
When you're job hunting, your cover letter, resume or interview responses should emphasize factors that correspond to the employer's diversity interests and involvement. For instance, you might:
Reveal association membership, committee or charity work that identifies you as a diversity champion.
Share diversity experiences, such as training sessions or workshops you attended for previous employers.
Discuss volunteer work that demonstrates community involvement or good citizenship.
Link these to your profession and help the company understand that in addition to being, for example, a great accountant, you also are a team player, an asset to cross-company projects and a positive role model.
Help your interviewers understand how your "cultural competence" will help you play a role in connecting with today's consumers, co-workers, suppliers and investors.
If you like the concept of diversity, but don't have any experience in the area, get involved by reading books, volunteering or taking a course. Remember that most companies and people also are at the beginning of their journey to understanding and using diversity as a business opportunity.
Please note that I'm stressing experience and insights, regardless of your race. All races and ethnicities have members who are culturally incompetent. Employers know that they have to continue to hire and promote white employees. If you put yourself in an employer's shoes, however, you can see that it's more efficient to hire people who already "get it." As an analogy, would you hire someone who wasn't using e-mail?
Keep in mind that diversity will be a competitive edge for you -- but it won't win the battle on its own. Even companies known for promoting diversity value competency over everything else. But if you bring up the subject at the appropriate moment, at the right company, championing diversity can give you a competitive edge.
-- Mr. Visconti is a partner and co-founder of DiversityInc Media LLC, a publishing company based in New Brunswick, N.J.