Building Diversity in Organizations is a Leaders’​ Job

As we celebrate Pride month in June, we must not forget that our history has been full of struggles for people just trying to be accepted for who they are.

Can leaders do anything to encourage diversity actively?

When we remember the Stonewall uprising in June 1969 every year, it becomes a moment to reflect on how negative bias really causes dysfunction in our society and workplaces. We need less negative bias and more tolerance in the world. This calls us to understand what bias is and how we can overcome it.

A bias is an inclination or prejudice against something or someone… and I have first-hand experience trying to counterbalance gender bias.

We faced several challenges to recruit female engineers and construction workers when I was leading the Project Management and Infrastructure Group at the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS). In some cases, like the program we supported for the removal of land mines together with the UN Secretariat, less than 4% of the workforce were women.

To address this challenge and improve diversity, we partnered with the US Millennium Challenge, UK Aid, Devex and several other organizations to create a campaign called “She Builds”. The main aim was to create awareness and encourage women to overcome the cultural and social challenges and apply for jobs in this area.

It was one of the most rewarding programs I took part in. The program increased female participation in the selection process from 4% to 36% in roughly one year.

You are now asking how was this possible?

Let me share with you 3 aspects we must understand and act on:

1. With no seeds, there are no fruits.

You cannot expect diversity if you have a similar set of people interacting in echo chambers. It is a process of expanding access to opportunities. Leaders must create a stimulus for a diverse group of people to enter the system.

Again, with no seeds, there are no fruits.

When I was in charge of creating Brightline, a Project Management Institute initiative, we mindfully curated a global and diverse team. It was intentional. It was to mitigate the inherent bias that comes with working with people with similar thoughts and skills.

To be successful, we had to “speak” with all stakeholders. Always!

2. It is not smart to repeat doing the same things and expect different results.

If the way you identify, recruit and foster talent is not producing the diversity you expect, it is imperative that you change your approach.

You must be proactive when opening job vacancies. You must look to embrace people from other experiences and backgrounds.

You must open your mind.

A straightforward example: when we put the quote “Qualified female candidates are strongly encouraged to apply” in all UNOPS vacancies in our area, we increased female participation. Especially in countries where the social gap between women and men was high.

We must understand that a subtle and intentional shift can have ripple effects. Please, I am not saying that you should do positive discrimination towards women or a particular minority group.

I am saying that you must encourage them to apply and show their competence. If you do that, the problem is sorted out because people know what to do if they have a chance. Give them a chance. Trust me.

3. It is not only gender equality. It is all about diversity.

A BCG study demonstrated that diverse companies produce 19% more revenue. In addition, an HBR article analyzed that those diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets. And with more markets comes higher performance and more revenues.

And why this result?

Diversity boils curiosity, improves innovation, gives you a far better perception of the risks you are running and increases your understanding of the marketplace.

Finally, we must always be mindful and remember that salaries and opportunities are based on competence, commitment, experience, knowledge and NOT based on gender, the colour of skin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

This is not fair, this is not right, and this does not reflect the society your organization aims to serve.

So how are you going to open your mind and counter-bias in your workplace today?



Passionate about transforming ideas into action ◆Principal — Macrosolutions ◆ Board Member ◆ Author ◆ Venture Capitalist #projectmanagement #transformation

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Ricardo Viana Vargas

Passionate about transforming ideas into action ◆Principal — Macrosolutions ◆ Board Member ◆ Author ◆ Venture Capitalist #projectmanagement #transformation