BeachAccording toPwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey (released this year 2015), 85 percent of CEOs who have a diversity and inclusiveness strategy say the strategy has enhanced performance.

That’s great! However, many employees say they embrace and respect diversity at work, but I’m not so sure this is accurate. Why? Because of the counter-proof I’ve witnessed a lot lately.

Here’s a little story to illustrate my point. It comes from my personal experience of speaking recently at the 2015 Annual Diversity Day event for a Fortune 500 technology company.

I was the keynote speaker, and my speech title was, “The Dynamics of Diversity: How to Create a Personal Brand at Work in a Diverse, Global Environment.”

I discussed the importance of creating and managing your personal brand for leadership and career success, and I also set aside plenty of time for the importance of embracing diversity at work. After all: Your cultural competency (or lack thereof) is something that impacts your personal brand – positively or negatively.

There were 300+ people in the audience, and when I shared the following quote, the entire room applauded and nodded enthusiastically: “Meet people; not stereotypes.”

That audience response was terrific, but the truth is that many people like to “think” they think like that – but many don’t actually have that mindset.

Now, keep in mind that the room was filled with people from all generations, races, backgrounds, and lifestyles. The attendees represented a fair mix of genders.

To make a key point, I shared the true story of a female executive from another global company who had contacted me just a few days prior for a private leadership coaching session. She saw me speak at a different event recently and determined she could use my help.

She’s Chinese (born in the U.S.), early 40s, married, Mom of two kids, and a lawyer in her company’s legal department. Her professional and educational background are top-notch.

During our private session, she told me that she was having a hard time relating to other people within the company (locally and abroad), outside of her direct peers, and it was impacting her personal brand and leadership ability.

VanWhen I bluntly asked about the nationalities of all those with whom she had lunch, happy hours, BBQs on the weekends, social gatherings, and other activities, she thought for a moment and then answered, “They’re pretty much all Chinese.”

When I inquired about any professional networking associations she was a member of outside of work, she timidly replied, “An Asian women in business group.”

As I shared this story with the audience in front of me, people throughout the room were nodding. Why? Because it struck a nerve within them.

A lot people, even in big, global companies – people who are highly educated and surrounded by diverse workforces every day – tend to “herd” with “their” people socially, both inside and outside of work.

Thus, I encouraged the members of the audience to get out of their comfort zoness and start reaching out to coworkers and people throughout the company who were “different” from them. I asked them to start learning about other cultures and lifestyles simply talking to people who are in these cultures or living these lifestyles.

Don’t know someone from the LGBT community? Meet someone. Don’t have any African-American friends? Get some. Don’t have any friends who are Indian, Caucasian, Asian, Latino, Jewish, or from any other “diversity”? Make it happen.

I don’t care if it’s gender, generation, lifestyle, religion, or ethnicity: The only person who can expand your horizons is you.

Do you know how powerful that is for your personal brand and personal growth? Do you know how important this is for being an effective leader and manager? People will appreciate your interest and will respect that you even care!

As I often say in my speeches: “This may sound like common sense, but it’s not common practice – big difference.”

Luckily, the millennials (aka: Gen. Y) are starting to turn this trend around. They are the first generation in the history of our country and world who, in a somewhat “mass mindset,” tend to be more tolerant and all-inclusive. That’s one of the reasons I love them and I really enjoy working with them in the workshops I conduct specifically for their generation.

HandsIn closing, when I concluded my keynote and left the stage at the Annual Diversity Day event, tons of people came up to me to share their appreciation for my message. One African-American woman said she was guilty of not expanding her peer group, as did an Indian man, a white boomer man, and a Latina woman. And that’s just a few of the people who confided in me that day.

Cultural competency is very different from cultural awareness. Do yourself, your career, your company, and your colleagues a favor, and focus on becoming culturally competent. It’ll do wonders for your personal brand at work.

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