Speaker highlights importance of diversity for future growth

Jocelyn Kopac, a business consultant based in Johnson Creek, warns companies that failing to include diversity in their employee mix could spell trouble.

“Diversity is happening,” she said yesterday at Madison’s Forward Fest. She pointed out that by some estimates, the United States will no longer be a majority-white country by 2045.

“The youthful minorities right now are going to be the engine for future growth,” she said. “So if your business is not ready for that, you’re going to have a problem.”  

Kopac pointed out that many would-be workers have unprecedented access to information about potential employers through services like Indeed or Glassdoor. If somebody leaves a business because they feel unsupported, unhappy or downright discriminated against, they can make their opinion known.

“We live in a digital age; where do you think they’re going to put it?” she said. “And then at that point, even though you could have fixed that situation, you didn’t, and now it’s on there for forever.”  

One way companies can sidestep this consequence is by examining their key performance indicators,or KPIs, for bias. According to Kopac, KPIs used at the individual level can often be very biased, as they will seek a particular answer grounded in a certain culture.

As an example, she points out that she was raised on a farm, so if she was asked where milk comes from, she would say that it comes from a cow. But for someone raised on a city block, who’s never even seen a cow in person, they might answer that milk comes from a store.

The point is that both are right answers, but KPIs can often set up one response as more correct than the other.

“It’s based off of what’s the right answer, but also you’re not taking into account their experiences through life,” she said. “You’ve got to make sure your KPIs are working with your diversity and inclusion efforts, so that you’re not marginalizing people that just don’t fit the exact right answer.”

Kopac also said that appreciating diversity without purposeful inclusion is less valuable. She says employers should balance a diverse workforce quota with picking people that also fit the company.

“If you’re going to go for diversity, and you don’t have the inclusion on the back end to help you out, you just hired somebody who doesn’t fit with you,” she said.  

Ultimately, she says diversity always creates conflict, and ignoring that inherent conflict will only lead to problems.

“We all know that,” she said. “You have to prepare for friction when you hire somebody who doesn’t look, act like you.”  

She offered a range of suggestions for dealing with that conflict: using empathy rather than sympathy to avoid patronization; self-reflecting on current practices and how they affect people; and doing more research on the latest inclusivity practices.

“Change is only hard for the unready,” she said.

–By Alex Moe