And Drives the Bottom Line

When I was a student at the University of Central Florida in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my mom used to send me care packages. But these weren’t the conventional kind with cookies and mementos from home. These were more in the utilitarian category. She sent herbs, seasonings and spices for my cooking, books from my favorite authors, and even my favorite brand of bar soap.

I’m not from some far away, exotic land. Like many other Central Floridians, I hail from Puerto Rico, which is closer to Orlando than many states. But back then – and it is hard to think that is just been a bit over 20 years – this was a much more monolithic community. Goya products didn’t fill shelves at Publix, books stores didn’t carry authors by the name of Allende, and there were two or three Latin restaurants in town that I can recall. Hispanics were not very visible in workplaces other than the service industry.

Some of these things now sound like ancient history; others we are still working on. Central Florida’s explosive growth has been fueled by an influx of Latinos and other minorities who now comprise 30 percent of the population. Yet some companies and agencies still struggle to reflect diversity in their ranks. As a Public Relations and Marketing professional, I often marvel at the lack of bilingual and bicultural personnel in some government agencies, nonprofit groups and business, which can impact their ability to reach a big segment of their market in a meaningful way.

Yet racial and ethnic diversity are just part of this conversation. Differences in age, gender, culture, physical abilities, religion and sexual orientation are also important contributors to diversity in the workplace and not just for window dressing. Diversity makes business sense.

Here is how, according to experts with the Center for American Progress, a public policy research group:

1. A diverse workforce drives economic growth. Our nation’s human capital substantially grows as more women, racial and ethnic minorities, and gay and transgender individuals enter the workforce. A McKinsey & Company study, for example, found that the increase in women’s overall share of labor in the United States—women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs to 47 percent over the past 40 years—has accounted for about a quarter of current GDP.

2. A diverse workforce can capture a greater share of the consumer market. By bringing together individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, businesses can more effectively market to consumers from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, women, and consumers who are gay or transgender. It is no surprise, then, that studies show diversifying the workplace helps businesses increase their market share.

3. Diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce. Bringing together workers with different qualifications, backgrounds, and experiences are all key to effective problem-solving on the job. Similarly, diversity breeds creativity and innovation. Of 321 large global enterprises—companies with at least $500 million in annual revenue—surveyed in a Forbes study in 2011, 85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.

4. Businesses need to adapt to our changing nation to be competitive in the economic market. Census data tells us that by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country. Further, between 2000 and 2050 new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population. Our economy will grow and benefit from these changing demographics if businesses commit to meeting the needs of diverse communities as workers and consumers.

5. Diversity is a key aspect of entrepreneurialism. Our nation’s entrepreneurs are a diverse set of people of color, women, gay, and transgender individuals. According to the Census Bureau, people of color own 22.1 percent of U.S. businesses. Moreover, women own 28.8 percent of U.S. businesses, and Latina-owned businesses in particular are the fastest-growing segment of the women-owned business market. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, gay or transgender individuals own approximately 1.4 million (or approximately 5 percent) of U.S. businesses.


JeanetteJeannette Rivera-Lyles is a fully bilingual communications professional with more than 20 years of combined experience in new media, public relations, broadcast and print. A native of Puerto Rico and a UCF alumni, she is currently a partner at Eleven 11 Communications, LLC, a communications consulting and content-providing company focusing on the Latino market.

She is a former senior account executive with Wragg and Casas Public Relations in Orlando. In this role, Rivera-Lyles supported a variety of businesses, local and national, in message development, crisis management and media relations. Prior to this, she was a staff writer at the Orlando Sentinel, MSN Latino and The Miami Herald.