Diversity - is it a white male middle class problem? Or is it all about the tuppence?

28 June 2018 08:38

When I was recruited for my first learning and development (L&D) role in 1998, I had to undertake a Myers Briggs profiling assessment. There were 12 staff trainers in a company of about 2,500 staff. The L&D team were looking to recruit a particular personality type that was missing from their team profile. And I was the missing part of their jigsaw.

When it comes to diversity, the first hurdle that we have to overcome is the belief that we are all the same. We are not. We all have different skills and abilities. But we all must have equality under the law.

Equality under the law is paramount. Discrimination based on differences that we cannot control hurts individuals, hurts societies and hurts businesses. No one wins.

So is diversity about the gender, race, sexuality or religion of a person? Well, yes. And no.

The arguments for Yes

Corporations have to reflect the members or society whom they serve or want to serve.

If the leadership and employees of the corporation do not reflect the people they want to attract, the business will likely fail or the organisation will close.

We see this with the decline in membership of some sporting clubs, religious denominations, political parties and charitable groups. They are predominantly run by the "old guard" and seen as combative institutions where the members focus more on internal issues than they do trying to attract new members.

On the flip side though is an increase in the popularity of alumni associations and single issue causes and affiliations.

People's social lives are moving more and more online and we generally live in more densely populated "communities" where we know very few of our physical neighbours. Alumni groups offer people a connection to the off-line world with a group of people they already have an association with.

Single issue cause organisations also speak to a sceptical audience who see large unwieldy charities as not reflective across the organisation of who the donors are as individuals.

What we can be sure of though is that the old model is not working any more and so we have to find a new way of serving our customers and members.

The arguments for No, more importantly . . .

Diversity is more than the multiple and various groups that we, as individuals, belong to. When it comes to the workplace, smart organisations realise that diversity is about the way people THINK. What people look like and what diversity boxes people tick is the lazy way of getting diversity in the workplace. That's good news for the employee but not for the corporation.

If organisations really want their workplaces to be diverse, they have to be recruiting for personality. That starts in the boardroom. An organisation is only as strong as the leaders at the top. The culture of the organisation is a direct reflection of the leadership team.

The banking Royal Commission that is currently underway in Australia is a good case study in diversity. The banks are probably very proud that they can tick all the diversity boxes that HR ask them to in order for the bank to then report to various charitable organisations and get some good publicity.

But the reason that the banks got themselves into the mess that they are in is because they all think like bankers. Bankers breed bankers who only listen to bankers who promote bankers to be the leaders of the bank. The song Fidelity Fiduciary Bank from Mary Poppins springs to mind!

Using the banking sector as an example, the change in leadership recruitment that needs to happen is precisely in this diversity of thought at the executive level and board table. Adverts that say "must have 5 years banking experience" for a support role at the executive or board table has proved not to work. Why shouldn't the HR expert be from the charitable sector? Or the financial expert be from the agricultural sector?

It is the diversity that will stop the herd think and remove the blinkers to potential issues. Where is the best place for you to invest your tuppence? In diversity or same-same?

So, you see in that very first L&D role that I worked in last century, the existing team was wise enough, visionary enough and confident enough to recruit for diversity of thought. And that is the background that I come from that has made me who I am today.

If you want to experience how I think differently from you in order to give you a fresh perspective, then book yourself a complimentary coaching session with me. But be prepared to be challenged!

By the way, before you book in to see me, there are 3 statements that I don't accept from people that you should know about:

  1. "I don't have time" - it's all about the level of priority that you put on something.
  2. "I don't know" - yes, you do, you just haven't been challenged to think properly.
  3. "That's not how things are done" - if things aren't working, then you have to change the way things are done.

So keep on learning, keep on thinking differently, and keep on listening to that diversity of thought.

Christopher Brooks

Director, Leadership and Learning


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