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Getting diversity right for your business

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Getting diversity right for your business

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Diversity is a regular topic amongst the business press.  The Chartered Management Institute for instance regularly report on the lack of female representation in boardrooms, whilst the Chicago Tribune led with a story bemoaning the lack of diversity the further up the corporate ladder you went.

DiversityInc Best Practices in June explored the number of minority CEOs at Fortune 500 companies and found very few held the top spot: six black, eight Asian, seven Latino, and 21 women.

It’s a narrative that’s been ongoing now for a number of years, with various government led initiatives created to try and improve the diversity in our boardrooms, including various EU measures seeking to make female representation mandatory.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the corporate world seems to be on board with these moves, often talking about the importance of diversity to their innovative potential.

This is the thing though.  Diversity is great for an organisation, but there are certain criteria those diverse organisations need to abide by for the diversity to benefit them, and hitting quotas based upon gender or race aren’t one of them.

For instance, in The Difference Scott Allen highlights four things needed for diversity to come into its own.

  1. The problem needs to be tough enough that no single person will always come up with a solution
  2. The team members need to have some intelligence in the general area of the problem
  3. The team members need to be able to incrementally improve solutions to the problem
  4. The team needs to be large enough to have a genuinely diverse talent pool

So in other words, diversity only matters if the diversity contributes to the problem your team is trying to solve.  Having diversity along racial or gender lines is about as useful as having diversity based upon which football team you support.  Unless race or gender contribute to the decision making ability of a person, it’s irrelevant.

This isn’t all however.  Diverse teams also need enough similarities to bind them together as a cohesive unit.  If you’re trying to build a new product or crack a new market, then everyone on your team has to believe in that shared goal.  They can have different ways of achieving it, but they have to be similar in their belief in that goal.

You then need to manage those teams really well.  It’s no coincidence that many of the greatest teams had a manager that excelled at letting them do their thing.  At Disney for instance, Walt Disney had no particular skill in animation, but was excellent at building a great team and getting the best out of them.  Managers on the Manhattan project excelled at keeping the team isolated from the political distractions of the time, giving the incredibly talented individuals the freedom to perform to their best.

So sure, diversity is something that should be cherished, but I can’t help but feel that bogging the issue down on racial or gender lines is kind of missing the point about what makes great teams great.

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