Updated: Dec 5, 2020
By Brian Hilliard and Ivan Misner, Ph.D.
With everything going on in the world today, we thought it would be a good time to take a step back and talk about diversity, and more specifically, about diversifying your business network. Developing a truly diverse network is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. Because let’s be honest, different people bring different things to the table in terms of who they know and how they might be able to refer or otherwise assist your business.
As we said in our book, Networking Like a Pro, networks are by nature, clumpy. Human beings have a tendency to congregate and surround ourselves with people who are similar to us. . . whether by race, gender, religion, or professional status. Unfortunately, this approach to networking has unintended consequence – namely, that we tend to form clusters. This is why it is so incredibly important to be intentional about the way we develop our personal network. A diverse personal network enables you to increase the possibility of including connectors to your network. These are people who cross over in some way between two or more groups of people. The best way to increase the number of possible connections in your network is to intentionally develop a diverse, heterogeneous network that has connections to other clusters of people.
If you go with the premise that relationships are the currency of today’s modern business person, then it stands to reason that having an ethnically diverse business network – comprised of people who look different than you – actually is the next logical step when it comes to building a thriving referral-based business.
But for a lot of people, especially those in the majority, the question becomes how.
In other words, how as a white businessman (or woman), can I diversify my network and get to know more business people in the African American, Asian or even Latino communities?
That’s a great question and one that, at first glance, can seem daunting to say the least. But as with most seemingly complicated questions, the answer is quite simple: Be more intentional about it. In other words, as a member of any ethnic group, the tendency is to spend time around more people like yourself. So whatever ethnicity I am, I’m more likely to have friends and business contacts of that ethnicity. And while that’s understandable, we feel that entrepreneurs who diversify their networks – based on ethnicity, gender and a host of other factors – are actually better positioned to be more successful.
As a matter of fact, McKinsey & Company did a report in 2015 (“Diversity Matters”) which determined that companies having a high racial and ethnic diversity are actually 35% more likely to perform above their industry’s national median return.
So the question becomes what can we do to branch out and overcome the gravitational pull we all feel towards spending time around people who look like us? How can we, instead, become more intentional in our actions when it comes to actually meeting and engaging others in different communities?
Another great question…and we have some thoughts.
1. Recognize that diversity is a process, not a program. In other words, diversifying your network has to be something you want to do and commit to doing on a daily basis. It needs to become part of your core beliefs that you’re going to be intentional about meeting and engaging people who don’t look like you. Anything less than that is almost guaranteed to eventually fail.
2. Look at your phone and business contacts on social media. Do they all “look” the same in terms of ethnicity, age, education and gender? If so, then keep reading because you might have some work to do. As we said above, diversity is a process, not just a program. This has to be an ongoing process.
3. Consider volunteering for certain organizations which put you into contact with people who are different than you. This could be as simple as volunteering as a coach for a local sports team, scheduling some time to visit an inner city school during “career day,” or sitting on a local community service board. Just take it upon yourself to broaden the scope of contacts you have with various ethnicities.
4. Make it a point to talk to people who don’t look like you. This is one that I (Brian) personally started doing 2 years ago, and I love it! So as a black man in his 40’s who grew up in the North but lives in the South, I take it upon myself to talk to ANY white person who may or may not have the same education as me, or who may or may not be in the same physical shape as me, or who may or may not be originally from the North like me. And it’s not a question of patronizing people or anything like that…I just make it a point while passing them at the grocery store, walking to my car in the parking lot, picking up some Chinese food to say “Hey, how’s it going?” And depending on the situation, sometimes that leads to more conversation, sometimes it doesn’t. But it gets everyone out of their comfort zone for a bit engaging new folks.
5. Invite different people of different ethnicities to your networking group. If you’re in a local Chamber of Commerce or a BNI Chapter, this is a perfect opportunity for you to engage others and invite them to your group. For example, maybe you’re out networking and you see a person of color and you decide to implement Point #4 from above. Ok, then during that conversation, you let them know about your group and see if they’d like to attend. And that’s it. Super easy to do, and it is very intentional.
6. Make this a top down initiative wherever you are in the organization. For those of you who have employees in your business, this point is crucial. If you want to have diversity in your organization and be more successful as a business because of it, then you absolutely must take the lead and make diversity a “thing.” Which means it is something that people value, something that people do, and something that you, as the leader, set as an example on a regular basis for them to emulate.
7. Hard-code diversity into the fabric of your business. Similar to the previous leadership point, if you’re going to be serious about diversity in your business, we recommend you seriously consider making it one of the core values of your company. Put it in your public material, address it when talking to your team/employees, and make it a part of the DNA of the organizational culture so people are crystal clear how you feel about it and how it plays out in your company.
It is important to note that there is a subtle but crucial difference between inclusivity and diversity. You may have an organization where the members feel like it is very inclusive, but when you look at it from the outside, does it truly look diverse? If not, you need to be more intentional about being inclusive to create diversity. Diversity is a fact; inclusiveness is a choice. Intentionally acting in an inclusive manner is what creates diversity.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there yet…maybe you haven’t done these things as well as you could have. But today is the day to start. It’s never too late to do the right thing.
About Dr. Ivan Misner
Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is also the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI (www.bni.com), the world’s largest business networking organization. His latest book, Who’s in Your Room, The Secret to Creating Your Best Life, is available at bookstores and at Amazon.com.
About Brian Hilliard
Brian Hilliard is a Popular Speaker & Author of the best-selling book Networking Like a Pro, and How to Overachieve w/o Over Committing. As a graduate of Duke University, Brian started his speaking business in 2001, where he has spoken to literally hundreds of audiences in the areas of Marketing, Leadership & High Performance Success. Some of Brian’s work has appeared nationally in Entrepreneur Magazine, Black Enterprise, and the Martha Zoller Morning Show – where his interview was broadcast to over 2 million listeners.
Brian has 2 dogs (Nero & Baxter), a slightly over-sized cat (Willow), and a loving partner (Deb), who have encouraged and supported him over the years. When not speaking, Brian enjoys playing golf, watching basketball and taking in as many movies as possible on NetFlix!