This month at Iconic Resourcing, we’re shining our blogging spotlight on Diversity and Inclusion programmes. Today, in particular, we’re going to take the time to bust what might be the biggest myth about workplace diversity.
A 2015 survey by Deloitte found a generational difference between millennials and older employees, with the later viewing diversity programmes as essentially a matter of egalitarianism, while the latter consider them vital to business success.
This throws up an interesting distinction that can be made between differing viewpoints when it comes to workplace diversity.
Enforced Equality vs. Competitive Advantage
Some, and this certainly isn’t split between generations, are sceptical of workplace diversity and inclusion programmes. Certainly, any business that pays lip-service to diversity, or believes that inclusion begins and ends with the recruitment process, ought to be critically examined.
Others, however, cite concerns about diversity quotas and affirmative discrimination in the hiring process.
The argument runs that, if quotas are to be met, then potentially better candidates will be passed over in favour of less-good candidates who tick boxes for the company’s recruitment targets.
If the company is unable to hire the best candidates then, it follows, business will suffer. And those superior candidates choose to work for and with competitors.
On the surface, perhaps this appears to make sense. But it isn’t the whole story.
Shared Perspectives = Shared Blindspots
The argument presented above relies on a hidden premise that supposes an individualistic account of business success. Essentially, it suggests that the best candidate on paper will produce the best results.
Any recruiter will tell you that this isn’t necessarily the case.
Very few professions in the modern world involve working in total isolation. Almost any workplace will involve teamwork, cooperation, collective decision-making and external communications.
If your business is overly homogenous, then this is where problems may begin to arise. Shared perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences tend to result in shared blindspots.
Do you remember the Yorkie Bar “not for girls” campaign? You have to wonder how many women were present in the room where that concept was pitched. What about the recent Pepsi ad that sought to capitalise on the Black Lives Matter movement? Or Nivea’s disastrous “White is Purity” ad?
Now, it’s not possible to say definitively what reasons led these brands to make such poorly-judged decisions. However, it’s worth considering that they might have chosen differently if there had been someone in the team who shared the perspective of those who ultimately criticised the campaigns.
We’re not saying that, for example, the team behind the Yorkie campaign contained no women, simply that it illustrates a point. Whoever made the decision failed to understand the viewpoint of the majority of customers and the wider public. Whatever the makeup of the marketing team, it’s clear they missed this vital perspective.
Diversity as a Team-Building Tool
This is why we can say definitively that the “best person” is not always the best person for the job. Different viewpoints, experience and a diverse team are themselves competitive advantages.
Let’s say your best employee is called Tim. Tim’s great. He shows up early, gets results, always gets a few rounds in at the Christmas party. Everyone loves Tim.
Now, you have an opening on the team, and Tim’s brother Tom has applied. Tom is like Tim in every way, and you know he’d be an asset to the company.
But here’s the problem: you already have Tim. You have someone with those specific skills, those same experiences. Tom has some great ideas, but they’re the same ideas Tim’s already pitching you.
Maybe you ought to hire Lisa. She’s not got quite the same level of experience in your industry, but she’s qualified for the job and she’ll bring something different to the business: a perspective, experience and skills that Tim – and Tom – just don’t have.
A Fundamental Fact
We’ll be talking more this month about diversity and inclusion, but it is really important to get this fundamental fact correct at the outset. Diversity in business produces competitive advantage and, conversely, a lack of diversity is disadvantageous.
Any overly-homogenous business team lacks the outlook and input of diverse voices and experiences that can scrutinise, criticise and – most importantly – suggest alternative strategies.
We live in a multicultural, diverse society and, if your business doesn’t reflect this, then it will not thrive in our modern economy.
Have you encountered the kind of spurious arguments against diversity programmes detailed in this article? How did you respond? Let us know In the comments below.