I was encouraged that managing workforce diversity found itself sandwiched on a list of training topics, somewhere between improved ergonomics and quality control. It was refreshing to see a company casually dignify the challenge as an operational reality and driver of future performance, not a historic wrong that must be righted while also making fuel-efficient cars. As some of your colleagues at HBS have argued gracefully, including Robin Ely and David Thomas, separating diversity from the central challenge of running a business can be counterproductive.
In my own experience, when a diverse, integrated workforce is treated as a company’s social responsibility, at best, it makes people feel good. At worst, it fosters resentment and insecurity. But when diversity is treated as a competitive advantage, it becomes just that — now more than ever, as the markets for customers and talent become increasingly global. Toyota’s signaling was clear: diversity is as important and unemotional as reducing dashboard defects.