Diversity is like a hammer – it can build, or it can destroy – depending on who’s wielding it

by our Executive Chairman – Louisa Wong

(The original article appears here: https://bit.ly/2Clo89F)

In today’s complex, interconnected and mobile world, diversity is inevitable and part of our daily life. Unless we choose to live in isolation, we all have to live with it. 

Organizations must not see it as a threat. Rather, it’s an unstoppable force, like a hammer about to be swung. In the hands of a skilled craftsman, it can be a tool for building wonderful things. In the wrong hands, it can backfire and wreak havoc.

Research shows that diversity alone – without a culture that encourages empathy and inclusion – is damaging for individuals and organizations, e.g. it can lead to decreased revenue, performance, employee morale and well-being, plus slower decision making and increased conflict, absenteeism, missed opportunities and even the occasional discrimination cases. However, with an empathic and inclusive culture, diversity leads to better performance, better customer satisfaction and greater innovation.

So which comes first – culture or diversity?  That’s a chicken-and-egg question, and one can argue that if you have a culture of respect, tolerance, empathy and inclusion, then diversity follows because diversity goes beyond just having diverse employees that bring diverse perspectives and understanding of today’s market challenges and opportunities. Diversity does not work if you have a diverse group of executives who do not listen to and respect each other, and who feel entitled just because they fill the need.

It is also about how diversity comes together to create a beautiful symphony. Like butter, diversity feeds culture, and it is the key element that brings out the best out of every ingredient and blends everything together. 

Roughly 20% of Fortune 500 companies today employ diversity officers as “skilled hands” to ensure that diversity is implemented the right way, as part of an organization’s toolkit, and that it is used to build, rather than harm, culture.

Diversity officers understand that the culture of an organisation must mirror and stay relevant to the changing, open, and connected world we live in. They also recognize that it is not realistic to achieve diversity in every function and every market in the short term. It’s not something they can force-feed an organization just because it makes for good press. 

What is the point of having a left-handed Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) who believes every employee and decision must be or be based on left-handed approaches?

Therefore, talent and organizational development must take a holistic and long-term approach to diversity, partnered with short-term wins. Some practical questions to ask:

  • How do you transfer skills across sectors and industries to tap into diversity candidates from sectors who have either started recently, or are already very diverse, or have made more recent successes in hiring and grooming diverse talents.
  • How do you find and transition junior diversity candidates who can quickly be upskilled?
  • How can you use diversity to hedge against turnover? For example, organizations whose employees are predominantly blue or “compliant” (cautious, careful) personality types are more likely to be disrupted by AI than those with a healthy mix of blue and yellow or “influential” (creative, imaginative) personality types.
  • What should be the KPI for CDOs, which would help determine who would be the ideal candidate for the role?
  • Who should a CDO report and be accountable to?

A CDO must be at the C level for diversity to have a chance of becoming a sustainable and impactful force that every CEO embraces and believes in.

A quick search on LinkedIn shows only a few thousand C-level profiles with diversity, culture or inclusion in their job titles. This is obviously a relatively new function. It should be a full-time, dedicated function that can sometimes be a doubled up by a senior officer who will lead a committee of other senior officers on a project basis.

I believe that, to create any sustainable change, the function must be empowered with clear accountability and KPIs which may include:

  • Diversity among employees at all levels, particularly in mid- to senior positions. Every hiring or promotion must have a diverse pool of candidates. A mid- to long-term holistic approach with quick wins is key, as we know that it is not feasible to balance competence, experience, and diversity in all functions, levels and markets. As an outside adviser, an executive search consultant must be accountable for ensuring that at least a meaningful % of external candidates are diversity candidates, and if this cannot be achieved, promptly recommend alternative solutions.
  • To enable diversity hiring, as well as to cultivate vibrant, open and positive decision-making and interaction with healthy debate among a diverse group of leaders, there must be clarity in communication and buy-in on firm-wide goals and progress on the changes.
  • Work with key outside stakeholders to ensure compliance with any government regulation related to any diversity hiring quota, as well as any issues resulting in a diverse group of employees working together.
  • Diversity must first be an internal force of change and once it gains its footing and momentum inside, an outside force can escalate the changes. As we know, employee referral is one of a company’s best sources of new recruits and the company image should change and adapt to its new, diverse and inclusive culture.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker.

This doesn’t mean that strategy is no longer important, although one can argue that long-term strategies and plans are becoming less effective in today’s world where everything is moving much faster than the traditional 3- to 5-year strategic plan can adapt to. Similarly, it does not matter which comes first, culture or diversity, as we know both are crucial key ingredients that make up a winning recipe.

Lots of Love,

Louisa