What diversity means for the future of your company
Despite complaints from management teams about a lack of diversity in candidate pools, critical diversity is vital for companies vying to stay competitive. Luckily, markers such as gender, race, and ethnicity are not indicators of talent, and often, diverse talent is right at our fingertips.
As I originally published in Inc.: workplace diversity gets a lot of digital ink these days, especially with recent issues at Uber and various venture capital firms.
Some complain that the trouble hiring women and minorities is due to a “pipeline” issue. They argue that there are just not enough diverse candidates with the requisite education, experience or background to fill out management teams, assume leadership positions or take board seats. I don’t buy it.
First of all, the key to getting that critical diversity is to create your own pipeline. To find stars from diverse backgrounds, develop them–often before their talent is self-evident.
Having hung around a younger generation for 25 years teaching in an MBA program, and worked for decades with women and minorities on teams, in the C-suite, and on board of directors, I’ve seen first-hand that spectacular performance A) is no respecter of gender, generation, race or even education and experience, and B) is often just waiting to be tapped.
Secondly, smart diversity is much more than diversity of gender, ethnicity or generation-only. Diversity of optic, opinion, skills and background, on the other hand, enhances performance and a business needs the right sort of culture to seek and enhance that sort of smart diversity. And those businesses that ensure smart diversity end up winning in measures of 1) profitability, 2) growth, and 3) “respect” (for customers, suppliers, investors and employees). Success is diversity’s enduring argument.
The most compelling image I’ve used with management teams on the issue of diversity is to compare their organizations to an orchestra playing music entirely with oboes while their competition is assembling every kind of instrument to bring to the score a richness of harmony and depth of sound.
Just as orchestras are diverse by essence, so it is with high-performing business organizations. For the music listener, it isn’t enough that each instrument simply be different–a diverse smorgasbord of sounds. Great orchestras must turn a diversity of sound into a uniformity of composition. That means reading from the same sheet of music and taking direction from the same conductor.
The magic of diversity comes in blending various timbres into a harmonious whole that exceeds the sum of its parts. The misery of diversity comes from a cacophony of voices with no common values or purpose. In business organizations, this translates into celebration of input from diverse life experiences–but bone-deep agreement on core values and objectives,
In a course I teach, proven leaders from all walks of life share their experiences with the class and take questions from tomorrow’s business leaders. Invariably, visitors come away impressed without regard to race, nationality, gender or socioeconomic background or whether they went to Harvard or Chico State. Deep selecting people from this diverse cohort would yield a winning, and diverse, pipeline.
By Joel Peterson