Diversity for business isn't about what people look like
June 25, 2014
Diversity – It’s what makes talent tick right? The more the better. Makes your company more effective, the workplace more attractive. To improve your productivity, effectiveness and bottom line you need more women, more nationalities, more of anything you can think of.
I live and work in London, and I couldn’t agree more. Global city of the world, and I love it. It looks different, thinks different, and even has different politics to the rest of the UK (check it out here). As a Brit I’m almost a rarity where I live. And London is a hotbed of successful international business and talent the like of which exists nowhere else.
But here is the thing – it is tough when you are different. As just one example, it is not only harder to become CEO when you are a woman; according to The Economist you are also more likely to be sacked. Here are the rules that set up the barriers:
Are you one of us? If you are from outside of this company (i.e. have spent less than 20 years in the same firm) you are going to have a harder time getting the top jobs
You’re female? Sorry, mostly men here. That glass ceiling is near shatterproof
I could go on. The very diversity that makes the difference is also what makes it hard to get it going in the first place. Until the culture of a company is ‘difference’ – just like London’s – it is an uphill battle.
To solve this conundrum, let’s go back to basics. For a business, ‘Diversity’ is a proxy. It is a proxy for finding people with different ways of thinking and behaving that therefore contribute broadly with varied insight. It helps us see all the angles and avoid groupthink.
So actually what we are looking for is diversity of thought, behaviour and experience. That can, but does not necessarily, correlate with difference in gender, race, age, culture or anything we can see. I have come across plenty of examples where it doesn’t. I could certainly tell you some stories – but then I might lose my clients.
Diversity therefore is not about what we can see. Behaviour is contextual, self-reporting unreliable. The key could be to get to the heart of how people make decisions. What drives them one way or the other? Makes them either laugh out loud or get hot under the collar? Upon what basis do they do that? We know that people are consistent - that is what is called your character. If we could identify that, track it, measure it, use it to guide the make-up of our teams or the understanding of our risks - that for business is the diversity they need, diversity of thought.
And even better, you can’t see it. You can’t identify it as different at 50 paces. Diversity with stealth. Much harder to discriminate against or assimilate.
Full disclosure – we have a way.
Of course we do – it is one of the reasons I write this blog!
I’m sure others do to – it would be interesting to hear of anyone who does. Either way, it is food for thought. Let’s not lose sight of what, for a business, ‘Diversity’ is for – diversity of thought and behaviour. Diversity of contribution, for the benefit of all.