Posts Tagged ‘workplace diversity’

Correlations are Not Enough: Does Diversity Really Work?

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

I was reading a recent McKinsey white paper, Delivering through Diversity. The report builds on a widely read 2016 report, Why Diversity Matters, enlarging the company sample set, examining a broader range of financial outcome measures, and collecting more qualitative data. The critical takeaway from the most recent report is that it “reaffirms the global relevance of the correlation between diversity (defined here as a greater proportion of women and ethnically/culturally diverse individuals) in the leadership of large companies and financial outperformance.”[1] The authors are careful to point out the correlation is not causation. Their results, they note, cannot make the case definitively that having more women or people of color increases firm performance.

This is the persistent challenge in establishing the link between diversity and bottom line performance. So many variable affect financial performance that, in most cases, it is almost impossible to say that more social identity diversity—diversity by gender, or ethnicity—is better for firm performance. What we do know is that the kind of diversity associated with those identities makes a difference. Diversity of background, cognitive style, and experience enhances innovation, team performance and team management. However, these are not directly related to the holy grail of financial gain.

This research is valuable because it supports the well–established fact that diversity creates value. The issue is whether the indicator of female or person of color is what is providing that value.  It’s more likely that ways of thinking, problem solving, or incorporating unique personal and professional experiences is the critical resource. If that is true, it suggests a possible interesting paradox for recruiting people of these social identities. As populations of women and people of color become more a part of the fabric of an inclusive organizations, those same organizations may lose the value of that uniqueness over time as they continue to recruit women and people of color.

The idea is that organizations socialize those who enter into them. People who thrive in the organization do so because they adopt the norms and ways of thinking that are dominant in the organization. Those who do not adopt those norms are more likely to exit. That pattern would persist no matter the identity of the person. As organizations recruit more women and people of color, they will begin to lose the benefit of the deep diversity that the initially recruited women and people of color brought. It reminds me of the early experience of affirmative action. When I entered my affluent prep high school, I was an inner city black kid who entered into a different world. The setting was foreign and though the adjustment was often difficult, I was better and I think I made the institution better because I brought a radically different way of being to the school. Today, the black kids who enter are smart, but also better prepared to operate in the prep school environment. They are more affluent and more prepared to attend a prep school. The metrics have not changed: there is no difference between a black kid from my generation and a black kid from the present generation. But when it comes to deep level diversity, there is a world of difference.

The value of diversity comes from the capacity of the organization to invite and extract the uniqueness from individuals of diverse identities in the service of the mission of the organization. Inclusion and diversity can’t be only about identifying a static difference—say, women—and loading up on more women in the organization. That might make a difference in the short run. But in the long run, the differences that matter most will be those that invite people who challenge the organization’s regular way of operating. And if the organization is truly ready for these mavericks, that organization will thrive.

[1] From Hunt, Vivian, Sara Prince, Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, and Lareina Yee. “Delivering through Diversity.” McKinsey & Company, 2018. p. 1.


9 OCT 2013: NAMIC 27th Annual Conference

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

In this year’s annual conference, Inclusion, Inspiration, Imagination, NAMIC (National Association of Multi-ethnicity in Communications) Martin Davidson will answer the tough questions, “Is having a group of culturally diverse people working around the conference table really any better than having a homogeneous group working? Political correctness aside, what is the real bottom line payoff from diversity?” His session, The End of Diversity as We Know It, will be held on October 9 from 10:15-11:30 am.

NAMIC was created to help lead the way in leadership development, multicultural marketing solutions, and compelling research in emerging trends for an increasingly diverse population in the communications industry. Learn more and register now for this year’s conference.

Making Diversity Work: Leveraging Difference is the Right Thing to Do

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

With the recent release of my new book The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed  I thought it would be valuable to reiterate some of the key leadership points by posting this piece that the Darden School did in their “On Thought” series last year.

October 13th, 2010
“Unfortunately, ‘diversity’ has become a dirty word. When all is said and done, it just doesn’t work in our company and I don’t care what all the zealots say, facts are facts.”
Fortune 100 corporate executive

I interviewed a large firm’s leadership team recently that had abruptly ended virtually all of their traditional “Managing Diversity” work. This company’s leaders genuinely want to create a more inclusive and diverse environment, but the CEO was fed up with years of dead end initiatives that had done little to create meaningful change. That firm is far from achieving the change the leaders say they want, and ending all of their existing activities was probably not the right approach. But their discontent was legitimate. If leaders really do want some kind of shift toward greater inclusion in their companies and if they don’t really see compelling value from Managing Diversity efforts, then what should they do?
My work on Leveraging Difference—which I explore in much more depth in my upcoming book, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed—lays out some critical principles for moving forward the right way:

Strategy first (and I don’t mean diversity strategy). The greatest challenge that diversity professionals grapple with (and HR professionals, too, incidentally) is having command of the business’ strategy. This is important because doing diversity right requires an enterprise view—not just a talent or HR management view—of the company. The starting point for doing diversity well is having the same understanding of the business strategy that a senior line executive has. That way, exploration of how difference can make a difference is well aligned with the purpose of the company. This step has two powerful implications. First, any activity that is well aligned with the business strategy is much more likely to last! If you are looking for sustainable change in diversity, this is where to start. Second, and more challenging, is that this means that the common diversity agendas, like closing racial or gender disparities, may not be the most important work for an organization to do. Instead, their focus may be on greater diversity of educational background, or age, or level of divergent thinking. The best diversity work comes from following the business strategy.

Let all differences matter. The corollary to the “strategy drives diversity” principle is that the menu of differences that can be pursued is big. In the U.S., the “rule of 7 to 11” has traditionally applied to diversity initiatives. Diversity activity is restricted to incorporating roughly 7 to 11 traditional types of differences into the mix: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, age, religion, etc. But in leveraging difference, leaders get to step back and explore what differences really matter to achieving the organization’s goals and what differences don’t? If learning style diversity is more important for a consulting firm’s success than gender diversity, it’s legitimate to pursue the goal of integrating people with diverse learning styles as the primary diversity agenda. Here’s the caveat. Across the world, I continue to see one powerful reality for doing difference work: there is a tremendous amount to be learned from dealing directly with societal “hotspots.” Those differences that are most charged and contentious in a society are the most fertile ground for learning how to leverage difference. It’s hard to build a personal competency and an organizational capability for engaging difference if you aren’t willing to deal with tough differences directly.

Be a leader who sees the larger goal. To be the driver for leveraging difference, you have to clear your head and heart. What undermines sustainable difference work is the difficulty people have in subsuming their personal and emotional agendas to what is best for the whole organization. Diversity resistors are convinced that diversity is bad and they adamantly refuse to attend to the irrefutable evidence of the benefits that diversity—skillfully engaged—provides for their organization. Diversity proponents often avoid dealing with the legitimate discontent expressed by the executive I quoted at the beginning of this post, and advocate for—and bully people into acquiescing to—a diversity agenda. Both of these stances destroy the opportunity for the value of difference to be realized in organizations. Leveraging difference leaders take a realistic view of where and how difference helps and then drive that message through the organization with meticulous analysis, social adeptness, and the boundless energy that derives from doing work that really helps the organization do better and be better.

Jim Collins identified the “Level 5” leader who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” That same blend is critical for anyone who wants to leverage difference.