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By Marisa Rivera.

Leading in today’s world and in a global economy is not easy or simple. Today, embracing and incorporating diversity is not optional, but imperative in surviving as a leader and being competitive in a global market. I believe leadership and diversity must go hand in hand if we want to succeed and be at the cutting edge of innovation and competition.

Many people define the term diversity as the difference in culture, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, language, age, physical abilities, occupation, and class. But it is much more than that. Diversity is everywhere. Diversity offers remarkable benefits of new ideas, styles, vision, global competitiveness, creativity, innovation, and lifestyles. Effective leadership and the management of diversity in the workplaces are key to successful operations and productivity. Effective leaders have evolved into those who can be authentic, intentional and inclusive, and who can best oversee change in our organizations and institutions.

The old model of leadership, seeking to “control” and everyone needing to be the same, needs to be replaced with a transformational, inclusive and diverse leadership model in which everyone has value. Diversity and inclusion drives growth, it increases innovation, increases employee engagement and in return, increases performance.

The world has changed and we are more than ever interconnected with each other. In fact, the ability to adapt to change and embrace diversity in the workforce are two of the most important attributes in leadership today. Failure to recognize and embrace diversity will lead to challenges in the workplace such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and ageism, thus creating a hostile environment.

America is a land built upon its diverse workforce and immigrants. Today, the United States is composed of 76 percent Caucasian, 18 percent Hispanic or Latino, 13 percent African American, 5.7 percent Asian, 1.3 percent American Indian and Alaska native, .2 percent Native Hawaiian and the other are Pacific Islander (U.S. Census 2016). America’s diversity remains on the rise, with all racial and ethnic minorities growing faster than whites from 2015-2016 (U.S. Census 2016). Our country is prosperous and a leading global force because of its diversity, values and work ethic.

The public and private sector needs to move beyond Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) and celebrating minorities history months. Leadership is about embracing everyone’s diversity and their unique contributions. Contributions in making our country or our organizations world class and highly productive and competitive. According to leadership expert, John Maxwell, “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing else. The ability of the leader to influence others, both their followers and those outside their circle.” If we are unable to understand and influence our diverse workforce, we will lose our competitive advantage. We are all unique individuals and diversity is the one true thing we all have in common, let’s celebrate it every day.

Malcolm Forbes said, “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together”. As we re-define leadership today, we must identify, select and develop leaders who are authentic, confident, hopeful and resilient. They must also have both the capacity and passion to lead in this culture in which leadership and diversity go hand in hand.

Marisa Rivera is president of Mpowerment Works, a motivational speaker, executive coach and leadership and empowerment consultant.

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