Today we talk diversity in a big sun ATX day — 65F with just a few clouds.
So, the issue of diversity keeps being bandied about. I was speaking to a person with whom I had worked as a CEO for about a dozen years.
We were trying to assess whether that company was “diverse.”
He said, “I don’t think what we did was impacted by some specific goal of creating diversity as that word is used today.”
I agreed with him, but I noted that we were extraordinarily diverse by the standards of today. Who knew? I was “woke” before woke was woke.
Big Red Car, what exactly is diversity?
Before we can define it, I think we need to define the characteristics that make people different. I see it breaking down into the following characteristics:
1. Race, ethnicity, culture
3. Generational, age
4. Religious or spiritual beliefs
5. Sexual orientation
6. Education, skills
7. Economic status
8. Veteran status
9. Disability status
10. Philosophy of life, politics
I limited myself to ten, but I could come up with a few more, but that’s enough to work with. Do you agree?
People will have some or none of these characteristics — such as an Irish/German, male, Baby Boomer, Episcopal, straight, engineer-MBA, well off, Veteran, with no known disabilities, conservative.
It is a bit more complex than Old White Guy or progressive.
I don’t think most folks get beyond a handful of the above characteristics before they jump into the deep end of the discussion.
OK, so what is diversity, Big Red Car?
Diversity is the condition of a group being composed of people with different characteristics with the objective of creating a stronger organization by being able to access their different strengths.
The underlying theme is that a diverse group should function at a higher level than a group with no diversity.
Is that true? Or, do we want it to be true? I will leave that to your imagination to ponder.
The other consideration is that diversity is an outgrowth of discrimination that historically damaged a group of people. Racial discrimination was and is a reality, so a diverse group would, by its very composition, diminish that unfavorable impact on the group.
Would a group that was evenly composed of women and men be stronger than one composed solely of women or men?
[We are going with Mother Nature here — women and men. We are ignoring for the sake of argument such gender identifications as “questioning,” “neither,” and “androgynous.”]
Is it all just politics, Big Red Car?
You can make that call, but it is fair to note that much of what we deal with today is driven by political concerns.
Some of the big high tech companies in Silicon Valley conducted a public wake after the election of President Donald J Trump thereby validating the notion that the political leanings of the senior management of these companies was part of the company culture.
We had big time founders in tears as if their dog had died. It was a spectacle.
This also revealed a huge void in the intellectual diversity of these companies — many of whom would self-identify as being diverse and champions of diversity — well, except if you didn’t support their political views and candidates.
We have gone from a fairly easy to understand heterosexual and homosexual (gay) identification system to including heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, and asexual.
The man on the street would make a D- if required to define those distinctions. I admit to reviewing their definitions as I wrote this blog post.
In addition, we are asked to recognize that sexual identity is fluid meaning that persons may have a different sexual orientation at different points in their lives.
The focus on the sexual orientation of people is tied to the gay marriage evolution.
Gender gets mixed into this because of the public outcry against legislatures that tried to provide some order to who uses what bathrooms. Some states applied an understandably simple test — “What does it say on your birth certificate?”
This is another example of the fluidity of self-assignment — similar to sexual orientation — that seems to confuse the issue of diversity.
What is the benefit of diversity, Big Red Car?
The benefit is as noted earlier — a higher performing organization because the group can tap into the breadth and depth of talents available because of the different individual strengths and life experience of its diverse membership.
When one looks at that definition objectively, it is not difficult to say, “Sounds like a good idea.”
Another outcome is the elimination of discrimination based on the same characteristics. If you have a mixing of genders, then you have a higher probability of breaking down stereotypes and developing an enlightened appreciation for the possible. Substitute “genders” for whatever is your favorite characteristic and say the same thing.
Now, the big question, is this — “Is it really true?” You can start a fight in any bar with that question, friend.
Is it true, Big Red Car?
Ahhh, dear reader, you will have your truth. I shall have mine. What we seek is THE truth which is a out of season and difficult to capture on any day.
I think there is room for debate on this subject. I do think there are elements of diversity that one may plan into an organization, but it will not likely happen by accident.
I cannot tell you the number of adherents and evangelists for diversity who when you look at a picture of their company, group, organization — there is no evidence that they walk their talk.
In the startup world, one has to look at venture capital firms, as a simple example no better or worse than anyone else, and they would be at the bottom of the diversity totem pole, but they preach it like a Baptist tent revival on a hot July Saturday night.
Problem areas, Big Red Car?
I see some areas as being fraught with peril. Let me just throw them out for you. Not an inclusive list.
1. Confused cultural identification — Let’s say you are a first generation Korean living in Philadelphia. Your parents emigrated to the United States. They are native Korean speakers.
You speak English as your first and only language and have never developed a taste for kimchi. If you have ever been to Korea, you will understand the “kimchi” observation.
Do you arrive at a company’s doorstep ready to strengthen their culture with your Korean cultural experiences? You may look slightly different, but are you?
2. Ageism — Amongst all the current discriminatory practices in business today, in Silicon Valley, is ageism. Companies like Google attempt to mix seasoned workers with whiz kids and are surprised to find that the seasoned folk do not want to go to a strip club to discuss their team project.
Venture capitalists — many of them subject to the same discrimination — do not look at a fifty year old founder with the same lens as they would with a twenty-five year old founder. In many instances, this is purely ignorance because the VCs do not have a working knowledge of the seasoned entrepreneurs.
3. Conservatives — Being a philosophical conservative is the kiss of death in Silicon Valley or Hollywood. One has only to listen to the funeral dirges sung at the results of the recent election. Intellectual diversity is non-existent in the startup world.
There are one or two others I could include, but this is enough to make a thinking person consider what real diversity is and should be.
So, dear reader, there you have it. Is diversity a good thing? A real thing? An attainable thing? Is it just a new form of discrimination built on different building blocks?
Your Big Red Car falls on the side of hiring the very best persons available to do the job. This makes diversity an important, but secondary consideration in the hiring process.
A good company will respect the diverse backgrounds of its people, but not before it builds a great company.