Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Diversity Index review

I read an interesting book by Susan Reed called The Diversity Index - The alarming Truth About Diverstity in Corporate America ... and What Can Be Done About it.

The book is full of statistics about how many women and different races are employed in various places and how that has changed over the years. I assume similar stats apply to Canada.I wish it also had statistics comparing the demographics in general to the overall statistics.

I know where I grew up in small town Ontario, Canada, there was very little racial diversity (unless you count Italian, Scottish, Irish etc) , so it would not be reasonable to have a lot of racial diversity in most of the businesses. (of course not true of gender diversity, since half of the people were women)

I like to think of myself as gender/race blind. By this I mean that I simply want to have the best person for the position, regardless of the race or gender.

There is an uncomfortable catch 22 happening though. I was asked to join a board several months ago. I decided not to (at least not at that time) due to time constraints. I had been made more aware of the lack of women on corporate boards so thought I would suggest some woman to them. I reached out to my network to see who might be appropriate and found few women with enough similar background to mine that I could put forward. So should the company hire a woman with less experience and a weaker background? Tough question.

I think the best way to solve this catch 22 is through entrepreneurship. When you run a business, you are dependent on no one else to hire or evaluate you. It is unlikely that I would have been the CEO of a $2 Billion business had I not started and grown my own business.

This is where it's tough because governments like to bring in quotas and introduce bureaucracy. It's tough to legislate against bias though.

I do not think it would feel very good for someone to get a position just because of a quota system. In my own case, I am a member of Golden Seeds, and would hate to think that I was a member just to make up a male quota of that group. (Golden Seeds invests only in female entrepreneurs)

I think businesses will change when they recognize that they get more value by having diversity. One part of wisdom and maturity is learning from people with different views and backgrounds. We all tend to like and value people who are more similar to ourselves, and part of the reason we are the way we are is because we value the traits that we have. But for success, we need to be challenged.

The book starts discussing The Plan for Progress, which was the plan introduced in the 60s. It shows how companies that adopted a Plan for Progress ended up with more diversity in their companies. It ends ends with a new Plan for Progress, which has the following steps that successful companies followed:

1. They developed a core mantra that fused their diversity goals and ethical principles with their business strategy. Leaders articulated this vision in every internal speech and company communication. They demonstrated congruence.

2. They created a secure, reliable feedback system through which employees from all over the world could communicate safely and directly to a company executive, expressing their concerns over how they were being treated by other members of the company.

3. They provided diversity training to employees and fostered a culture of learning.

4. They administered 360-degree performance measurements to managers in which they were evaluated by subordinates, peers and superiors. Managers' pay was partly determined by how they were rated and how they developed diverse employees.

5. They cultivated and harvested new talent. They offered summer internship and contributed to funds that enabled underprivileged students to go to college. They widened their talent harvest to historically black and women's colleges.

6. They developed, supported, and funded extensive affinity groups. They made it mandatory for managers and officers to be involved in these groups.

7. Companies invested in local communities to improve public school education and opportunities.

8. Executives promoted women and people of color, as well as employees with an international perspective, thereby demonstrating their commitment to the core diversity mantra.

9. Chief executives opened themselves to negative feedback about what was not working by holding regular meetings with managers and employees.

10. They never stopped trying new ideas to foster integration because they realized that companies are highly changing environments.

I think it is also great for minority groups to help themselves within the group. There is a natural affinity to like people who are in the same group and it makes logical sense to help each other.

Interestingly we recently had diversity training at Canrock Ventures. And what came out of it was we needed to have social get togethers Friday afternoon. Not sure how that was arrived at...


At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting and thoughtfully written. A few thoughts and things to push at. More women start businesses than men these days so I would say that women are entrenprenureal. That being said, they tend to start different types of businesses (on average) and are very often less focused on growing the business to aarge company. There are different drivers that come into play.

A few thoughts about the board role... You looked for a replacement with a similar background. What about some diversity in background? What about valuing individuals who are looking through a different lens. Bigger is not always better. I think Boards should have a better diversity in backgrounds, including past experience. You do not have to have RUN run an organization of that size to understand the issues at play. That is in fact another sort of bias which leads to the lack of diversity.

If you always look for green, you will miss blue and some of the very interesting blue-green that can be found.

My observation re Boards is they are too uniform in background and do not tend to include those that would challenge some of the 'traditional' business approaches, measures, and value systems.

Ask yourself what the Board might gain value and diversity from, not just who has a similar background to yours.

At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always thought you want to hire the best person for the job. I would like to think that I am not a discriminating person. For exmaple...your house is burning down. I would hope that the most qualified person is there to save me. If that is a woman so be it. I have no issues with that. But are the qualification for a woman and man the same. If so great! But if we have changed the qualifications to accept woman as firefighters. I do not agree with that. If they meet all the same requirements as their male counter parts,then they belong there just as much as the male firefighter does.
And I believe this to be true in any business. We start a business or work for a business to be successful. We hope to grow the company, we want the best profits we can achieve. The most qualified individual deserves that job. I believe we focus to much on diversity (trying to please all races/gender etc.) and because of this alot of businesses and education are suffering because of it.
If your company is full of women and it is extremely successful, then so be it. Don't throw a guy in there just because the outside melting pot says so.
Man/Woman Black/White Tall/Short. Whatever is going to make your business successful and lead you into tomorrow is the best person for the job.
Just my thought!!!


Post a Comment

<< Home