At the i4cp 2015 Conference in Scottsdale Arizona, I had the pleasure of listening to USC Marshall School of Business Professor John Boudreau talk about his latest research into the future of work and his forthcoming book with Ravin Jesuthasan and David Creelman. Boudreau shared two powerful examples of this new world of work, which is rapidly emerging. The first example focused on a company called TopCoder.

TopCoder provides computer program coders to companies that purchase their services. TopCoder has about 700 employees, but the products and the value it produces for clients are the result of the work of over 700,000 people who, for the most part, are not directly employed by TopCoder. This is a huge shift from most past and current workforce models, in which the people who produce the products or services sold by a company are mostly if not entirely employees of the company selling the products or services.

Another example shared by Boudreau looked at the relationship between Siemens and Disney. Siemens, a massive German-based automation company that generates over 6 billion US dollars in annual revenue, developed a hearing aid for children. Recognizing the expertise of its strategic partner Disney, Siemens opted to leverage its ally's experience marketing to children instead of hiring new marketing-team members with this type of background.

The key thread throughout Boudreau's presentation was that these types of work relationships and alliances (contractors, freelancers, outsourced labor, etc.) will continue to grow side-by-side with traditional employee relationships. This brings us to a question: If we take away the assumption that all work in organizations will be done by regular full-time employees, how will that fundamentally change our approach to HR and worker engagement? The answer, as Boudreau noted, is that, "a world beyond employment requires shifting many basic assumptions in HR, including the meaning, value, and methods to achieve diversity and inclusion."

What does all this mean specifically for diversity and inclusion?

After his presentation, I spoke to Boudreau about the huge implications of what he was discussing for the diversity and inclusion community. While diversity and inclusion have clearly evolved over the past few decades, the focus has largely remained within the construct we call the company and its various departments and employees. Some of my questions included the following: What will diversity and inclusion look like in this new world of work? What modifications of old practices will this call for? What new practices might we need? What current practices should simply go away?

Here is another, more near-term set of questions: What should we be doing with diversity and inclusion functions now to set the stage for these changes? Given that some companies are transitioning away from producing value for their customers solely through employees' efforts, how should we begin shaping our diversity and inclusion initiatives so they align with these new value-driving business strategies? For example:

  • Should we move from employee networks called Employee Resource Groups or Business Resource Groups--consisting solely of company employees--to Worker Resource Groups that include every person involved in the work of creating value for the company's customers?
  • Should diversity and inclusion councils include allies and members that represent other components of the firm's total workforce beyond its employees?
  • When we train executives and managers to be inclusive leaders, who should they be trained and coached to include? Should these programs be updated to include participants in value creation who are not formal employees?
  • Aside from how we report employee demographics to government agencies for affirmative action purposes, as defined by law, who should we count when we assess our worker demographics? Should we also include our allies and global workers (contractors, outsourced staff, etc.) who are not in an employment relationship with us? What dimensions of diversity beyond those required by legal bodies for their reports should we include in this broader perspective on diversity demographics?
  • Supplier diversity programs have already taken a step in the direction of driving and reporting results beyond their company walls through second- and third-tier programs. These programs also measure how partners influenced by their company are allocating portions of their purchase dollars to various types of companies owned by formerly under-represented groups and targeted populations. In what ways might the new world of nonemployee workers call for changes in these relationships as well?

So what's next?

I believe this is a great topic to begin exploring now as we identify emerging practices for diversity and inclusion. With that in mind, I would love to hear your perspectives and stories, particularly experiences you can share that illustrate what your organization is doing to address these new diversity and inclusion challenges and opportunities.

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, once said, "The best way to predict your future is to create it." As we look at the evolution of work and its significance for diversity and inclusion, we have a choice to make. We can observe this process, see how it plays out, and then react to it--or we can take hold of it and steer our organizations to a place of competitive advantage. I trust that i4cp's Chief Diversity Officer Board members will take the latter path and pave the way toward this brave new future that is taking shape today!