Variety Pack

It can’t be a coincidence that in just one week, I’ve seen three major articles on diversity, in publications as different as a technology research report, a retail newsletter, and a trade magazine for writers. Of course, diversity has been in the spotlight for decades, but for the first time, research and media pundits are proclaiming that it can seriously affect the bottom line for better or worse. Also for the first time, retail analysts are warning that merchants had better pay attention to diversity — or else.

The vanguard of the nouveau diversity movement is a report titled “Who’s Minding the Future?” published earlier this year by Andersen and the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University. “While diversity has always been a part of our landscape, its magnitude continues to intensify,” notes the report. The proliferation of multi-ethnic and multicultural households has produced what authors Jay A. Scansaroli and David M. Szymanski call “cueless customers,” people whose tastes and values defy traditional categorization. In where it’s @, a retail newletter, editor Brad Boa comments on the Andersen report’s findings: “As is always the case, industries lag societal trends. The future will be all about those retailers who understand those trends and how they affect their business, then do something about it. Unfortunately, many retailers are already too late. Those slow to respond will simply disappear.”

Don’t despair, however, if you’re one of the laggards. Most workplace diversity research centers on three major themes of adaptation, which should pull you back from the brink:

  1. Change your offerings. Reinvent and reshape your merchandise, services, and retail environments to suit what the Andersen/Texas A&M researchers call “multiple, diverse, nontraditional, and unrelated interests.”

  2. Change your staff. New York’s Newsday was able to increase and enhance its coverage of the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy because of the paper’s diverse staff. Quill, a magazine for professional journalists, reports that Newsday‘s newsroom boasts the same demographic breakdown as the paper’s circulation area, in which 26% of the population are minorities.

  3. Change your procedures. You might have to offer training in different languages, accommodate varying diets and tastes in food, or allow workers to take time off for special religious observances. No matter how esoteric these practices may seem, don’t underestimate their importance. In Gartner’s recent analysis of the top ten factors that will permanently change the workforce, guess which ranks as number one? Diversity of people, thinking, and styles.

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