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Malcolm Forbes once stated diversity is “the art of thinking independently together,” and that simple definition speaks volumes about the value of diversity in the workplace. There are ample reasons for members of the construction and surety industries to strive for increased diversity, but the most compelling reason is the power that derives from a group of diverse individuals with different backgrounds and points of view “thinking together.” Diversity drives innovation, and in a rapidly changing workplace, innovation drives success.

According to Stanford Williams, economic inclusion vice president at Cincinnati-based Messer Construction, “having diverse working groups supports an environment of creativity and a variety of ideas.” Companies are far more likely to produce good ideas if the workforce includes people who look, speak and were raised differently from one another. Messer recently implemented a 10-year business plan with diversity as one of its core values as a result of top management witnessing the economic benefits of a diverse workforce. 

For Messer CEO and President Tom Keckeis, economic inclusion “is critical to the economic vitality of the rich mix of communities and customers that we serve.” And the makeup of those communities and customers is rapidly changing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, population growth is fastest among immigrants and their American-born descendants; in fact, the bureau predicts white people will no longer be in the majority in America within three decades.  If firms want a workforce that their customers can relate to, employees must be ethnically diverse.

The workforce must include women as well. Women aren’t just the fastest growing segment of the labor pool; they also control a growing percentage of the nation’s economic power. At Mark One Electric in Kansas City, Mo., women represent about 10 percent of the workforce. The decision to recruit women was precipitated by President Rosana Privitera Biondo’s belief that “you want your company to look like the people it serves.” She notes that women have brought a unique business vision to the company. 

It’s crucial to note that talent—not diversity for the sake of diversity—is the real issue. For surety and construction companies alike, expertise is the key to continued profit, and expertise begins with a broad talent pool. If firms are looking for real talent, why limit the search to a small percentage of the population?  

Talking about diversity and achieving it are two very different things. Following are four ways to reap the benefits of diversity.
  • Judge good intentions against results. Monitor hiring decisions the way a baseball scout monitors a player’s at-bats. Look for diverse candidates that can bring added value and be strong contributors to a winning team. Then, assess how those hiring decisions pan out: Are theemployees staying with the company? Are they being promoted? Can managers attract diverse talent from outside the company?
  • Build strong relationships with outside partners. To gain access to the best and most diverse job candidates, it’s essential to foster close working relationships with universities and other organizations. For example, Messer works with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and the National Minority Supplier Development Council. Ultimately, the goal is for these partners to hand-select the candidates most likely to succeed in the construction and surety industries. To make sure that happens, a company must have a clear vision of the types of talent it takes to flourish in a particular business environment—not learned skills like accounting or finance, but innate qualities like personal motivation, drive, intellectual curiosity, emotional intelligence and resourcefulness. Hiring on the basis of diversity alone doesn’t benefit anyone. 
  • Train and develop personnel. The surety industry is bifurcated between those who hire and train and those who wait and poach. Both are valid strategies, but hiring and training builds a diverse talent pool; waiting and poaching doesn’t. Keep in mind that recruiting and retaining are two sides of the same coin. A firm must attract top-quality diverse employees and it needs an environment that’s conducive to keeping them. 
  • Take a chance. Sometimes it’s necessary to make a calculated bet in favor of diversity, which could mean going with a gut feeling and hiring someone whose acumen and drive exceed his or her experience, or offering an employee a stretch assignment. That employee may rise to the occasion and learn something valuable in the process, which reinforces an important lesson: When it’s a genuine priority, diversity works.

Rick Ciullo is chief operating officer for surety for the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies and a member of The Surety & Fidelity Association of America Board of Directors. For more information, email rciullo@chubb.com.             

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