Archive for June, 2010

Women Judges—Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em

Monday, June 28th, 2010

As Elena Kagan steps up to the microphone this week to being hearings on her Supreme Court nomination, it’s a good time to remember not to ignore the fact that she a woman.  There is almost always the cursory nod to the fact that when someone who is significantly different by virtue of demographics and identity comes to an important job, that they are an X (insert woman, African American, Hispanic, sometime Gay or Lesbian).  The problem is that far too often the meaning of being an X, whichever it may be, for the position at hand is poorly understood.

That’s why a recent commentary “How Women Changed The High Court … And Didn’t,” is the kind that needs to be more front and center when people of diverse backgrounds enter new positions.  Being a woman on the Supreme Court that has been and continues to be predominantly male affects the decisions and perspectives a person takes.  For example, the commentary points out that a study conducted at the State University of New York looked at 7,000 U.S. Court of Appeals decisions from 1976 to 2002 and found no significant difference in the way female and male judges decided cases — except in one area of the law: sex discrimination.  Women justices bring a wealth of experience to the discussion about sex discrimination that male counterparts have less access to.  That broader field of perspective is a good thing.  It allows the justices to make more informed decisions, whatever the actual verdict of a given case.  And it is worth noting that there is a very large area of debate and discussion in which the fact that these justices are women makes virtually no difference.

People are far too invested in either defending that diversity is always important or that differences don’t really matter in the end.  Both arguments are flawed.  Sometimes diversity matters and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes diversity is a good thing and sometimes if does more harm than good.  The job of a skillful 21st century leader is to understand the conditions that affect when diversity can add value and when it destroys value.  This is a complex, but critically important thing to be able to do.  Leaders from all contexts and organizations—business, politics, law, education, social profit, and more—have to learn how to do it.

The Next Generation is Not the Problem

Monday, June 21st, 2010

These young people are freaking me out!  I sound like that older uncle I had who said something similar to me when I was in the my teens and I remember thinking how…well…old he was (talk about what goes around).

My revelation has been stoked by my experience over the past two weeks of teaching in the annual LEAD Summer Business Institute at Darden.  Since 1980, Darden has invited nearly 800 academically gifted and multitalented high school juniors from diverse backgrounds to participate in this internationally renowned program.  I’ve taught in the program and worked with these students since the late 90s, but I’ve been paying attention to them in a different way this year.  Part of the motivation for my attentiveness stems from the discussions I have had with executives and managers about how to recruit, motivate, and develop the new generations—Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials—of employees who are entering the workforce.  And we continue to see surprising evidence of what they look for in an employer. This is urgently important.  We know the demographic story that the “Boomer” heavy generation is quickly giving way to these new generations in record numbers.  But the story is even more nuanced.

As white baby boomers age past their childbearing years, younger Hispanic parents are having children—and driving U.S. population growth.  News reports last week revealed recent sharp increases in minority births that are coupled with relative decreases in white births as aging baby boomers were shepherding college kids instead of starting young families. Since 2000, the percentage of minorities has risen from 31% to 35% (and that of whites has declined from 69% to 65%).

So these high school students I’ve been working with, all of whom are “minority” (a term which is quickly losing its meaning in this discussion) really are the future, and in particular, the future of our workforce.  So what have I learned from them?

They are smart—or they seem especially smart to me. Yes, they are smart because they are technologically savvy.  But the second part of that clause is probably more important than the first.  These young folks are vibrant, energetic and intimidating because they bring to bear knowledge and skills that, for the most part, I lack.  So I am challenged not just by the content of what they know and can do, but by my fear and anxiety that I don’t know and can’t do the same things.  This is one of the greatest challenges managers face in dealing with younger employees.  It manifests in complaints about these young peoples’ lack of work ethic or lack of commitment.  And it’s not that these are not valid concerns.  But I also see managers threatened by the different perspective on work that younger employees bring to the organization.  The manager’s inability to effectively leverage that difference of perspective is the problem—not the actual difference.

They are (mostly) not white. A few years ago, I worked with a top management team to help them strategize about talent management challenges related to generational issues.  I asked them to give me stereotypes of X’s, Y’s, and Millenials.  And then I asked them to give me stereotypes of Hispanic or Black X’s, Y’s, and Millenials.  They struggled to see the distinction and that will be a problem.  Young kids from diverse ethnic backgrounds—Hispanic, white, black, Asian—are not all the same, and as predominantly white boomers build their image of the next generation from what they see of the white kids in their lives, they will radically miss the real next generation workforce’s concerns.  For example, a recent poll of 1500 young Hispanics from ages 16-29 revealed that:

— 91% felt that the U.S. a land of opportunity and…

— 83% thought that discrimination was still a problem;

— 73% considered themselves bicultural and straddling multiple cultures and languages;

— 88% felt that staying close to their Hispanic community was important.

This is data for managers and organizations hiring from this numerically dominant part of the coming workforce and what they must understand and grapple with.

They are already motivated.  This younger generation is very motivated and wants to make a difference in the world.  The image of the easy-going, nonchalant, young person who doesn’t really care about much doesn’t fit with the kids I’ve seen.  From my own cultural perspective, I liken what I see in members of the younger generation to the African American cultural value of being cool.  Being cool doesn’t mean you don’t care—it never has.  It simply means you control how you show you passion and thereby you exercise control over who you are as you navigate environments in which you have much less control than you want.  Kind of like the life of adolescent.  The challenge for me and for managers of my generation is to be able to shift frames of reference so that I can really internalize what matters to these kids.

These kids from LEAD are teaching me how I am limited in my view of the world.  And they are teaching me, as a producer of talent for companies throughout the country, how much more I need to learn about who they are.

Academy of Management Annual Meeting

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Martin will participate as a contributing member in four panel workshops during the Academy of Management’s annual academic conference in Montreal, Quebec, including “The Impact of Diversity and Climate Perceptions on Organizational Effectiveness,” August 10.  For more information, or to register, contact

Leveraging Difference Workshop

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Wall Street, New York, NY.

Partnership for Leaders in Education Summative Program

Monday, June 21st, 2010

A collaborative effort between the Darden Graduate School of Business and the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia, this program is designed for state administrators and school board members.