Traditionally, talk about diversity in the workplace has focused on inclusion of people of color and women, particularly within the management ranks.
And despite how far we’ve come, there’s still a need for those conversations.
Just last month, Catalyst, a nonprofit organization with a mission to “expand opportunities for women and business,” reported that women hold only “4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 5.1 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions.”
Another study (updated last month) claims that “Only 15 black executives have ever made it to the Chairman or CEO position of a ‘Fortune 500’ listed company.” And according to Fortune, just over 4% of all Fortune 500 CEOs are people of color, a classification including African Americans, Asians, and Latin Americans.
But for every study showing how homogenous corporate leadership tends to be, someone, somewhere is questioning why any of this still matters. Isn’t it good enough to hire the best people one can find, without regard to ethnicity or gender? And, what’s the value of diversity anyway? Is diversity for diversity’s sake any better than no diversity at all? Also, even assuming diversity is a good thing, why can’t we just allow it to happen naturally? Finally, aren’t other types of diversity, such as diversity of thought, more important than diversity based on color and gender?
Well, these are all great questions. Here are some answers.
Isn’t it good enough to hire the best people one can find, without regard to ethnicity or gender?
No. The hiring process is inherently subjective, and there’s no such thing as “hiring the best people we can find” that’s unaffected by human bias, including bias based on color and gender.
What’s the value of diversity anyway?
I’m getting there, promise.
Is diversity for diversity’s sake any better than no diversity at all?
Perhaps. But only if the powers that be are determined to stomp out influences from “others” in their organization. Otherwise, heck no.
Why can’t diversity just happen naturally?
Well, if it could it would, right? However, the statistics (such as those quoted earlier) would suggest otherwise.
Aren’t other types of diversity, such as diversity of thought, more important than diversity based on color and gender?
Sure. But it doesn’t have to be either/or. As an African American woman from humble economic means, I can assure you I think differently about a lot of things than people with different demographics.
But forget about me.
The research is consistent that diverse teams perform better and make better decisions.
In one experiment, participants from fraternities and sororities were divided into fifty same-gender, four-person groups and then asked to solve a murder mystery by reading a set of interviews conducted by the detective on the case. Each group was composed of either four people from the same fraternity or sorority or three from the same fraternity or sorority and one “outsider.”
Guess what? The groups with the “outsider” solved the murder more often than the homogenous groups. That’s because “outsiders” bring new information, shift group dynamics, and spark broader and deeper discussions.
That’s the value of diversity.
Still not convinced? Another recent study found that “diverse corporate board of directors—in terms of gender, race, age, experience, tenure and expertise—were more likely to pay dividends to stockholders and were less prone to take risk than those boards which are more homogenous.” In the study, researchers studied the performance of more than 2000 companies from 1998 to 2011.
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