Is diversity cutting it?


No acceptable corporate communication today without a word on diversity, which is mostly understood as gender management and how the more women in their ranks, the greater companies are. The HBR even recently came up with a paper called “Women make teams smarter”.

And that is certainly true.

However, this corporate ideal has decayed into a holier-than-thou attitude which now hurts the employee ranks and brings forth two issues.

In some places, men now know for sure they won’t access certain exposed roles because their KPI is not high enough in the cup size area (how’s that for a sexist comment? Inappropriate, isn’t it. Trust me, that felt good). On the altar of the politically correct, they know they will never, ever, make it to the gender-diversity alibis some roles have become. Like that woman on the Board, alone representative of her gender on the Board. She just bought herself the safest seat: if she steps down, the Board loses its “gender diversity”. Fewer female than male executives equals less competition trying to take the cookie away from her… She is safer than her peers.

In this Fortune 500 company, the CHRO role is now so out of reach you need to wear high heels to grab it. No other way, Sir. It is discrimination, but in a way, that is alright and not really the point: women have been discriminated against in a number of ways so one could say it is only fair. Why not?

What is more concerning is the fact now some men consider leaving the boat and moving to friendlier shores much earlier with higher damages to the company. Internal battles for the highest, visible C-suite positions, used to see a very limited number of opponents, generally two or three, groomed by the Gods and put to the test for the fittest to survive. Like they say: “there can be only one”.

But now that the top doghouse has its access restricted, the top dogs have less incentive to enter the competition for the N-1 and N-2 jobs that are traditional paths to said top position. Where two used to fight for the top job, leaving one loser who would then move away, four, five, or more now fight for the positions underneath knowing these are the last available rungs on the ladder. That makes three or more losers who will seek their fortune under other skies.

Bottom line: we wanted a wider talent pool by considering the better half of mankind. But the way we applied our policies, we are likely to have restricted our talent pipeline. Unfortunately we will probably have to go that way for a while, be it only for the proverbial penny to drop and the culture to change. That is the first issue.

The second issue lies somewhere else but is certainly equally dangerous: the tree hides the forest. Gender diversity pumps the diversity budgets and steals the show whereas diversity is something else entirely and certainly not only restricted to gender. It is the necessity to confront different ideas, generated by diverse and different backgrounds. Ethnical diversity is certainly one thing to promote, but more than that, cross-functional mobility (from marketing to HR, from finance to manufacturing etc), or diversity of background and education are the best way to ensure “frank exchanges” on ideas, which means discussion, creativity and therefore difference, innovation, edge. That diversity is too rare in a world of co-optation in which one hires amongst one’s own.

Women are great, and they are men like everyone else.  They need equity in Corporatia. But beware to not be counterproductive in the name of the political correctness, and not miss the true meaning of diversity. That will only bring resentment amongst the troops and prevent from reaching the objective. This not a criticism of the purpose, only a warning regarding the way the action is led: hell is paved with good intentions.

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