Perhaps the biggest obstacle to change – and therefore making any fundamental transformation in the business – is homogeneous management. Put another way, the less diversification, the less willingness to do anything different, largely because the less chance anyone will even suggest something different. I’m not talking about differences in race, gender or ethnicity. That sort of diversity is largely nonsense and useful only to the extent that it keeps the government and HR folks off your back. The diversity I am talking about is based on differences in education and work experiences.
The first kind – looking for diversity in skin tones, relative testosterone/estrogen balance, and clarity with which folks speak English – is silly on its face. It assumes that people think differently and hold different beliefs and values based on those factors which strikes me as quite racist, sexist and generally ignorant on its face. I was raised to believe (and have learned the truth of over and over again) to believe that whenever anyone says “black folks are …” or “women are …” unless the subject is biology the next words from the mouth of the person speaking in such terms are simply not true. There are no universal truths about the values, knowledge or business judgment of black folks or women. Being black or female doesn’t change the fact that each person is an entity unto him or herself with his or her own brain that is equally capable of brilliance, creativity or stupidity.
To think that biologically based diversity is important is based on the idea that people are wired differently right from the get-go – that skin color and brain wiring are somehow connected; or that female plumbing (or lack thereof) somehow relate to the ability to think in terms of processes versus silos. Makes no sense to me.
No, cultural diversity has right next to no bearing on thinking. That point is patently obvious from even the most cursory perusal of the Harvard Business Review. The contributors are as culturally diverse as you can get … and they all spout the same silly mantras of innovation, big data, managing people through psychology, brand management and globalization … regardless of race, color, creed or ethnicity.
More to the point are the companies that engage in managerial groupthink even though they may well be the poster folks for an HR pro’s dream of cultural diversity. They may well be diverse in looks but they all came from a hiring process that assures homogeneous backgrounds …. ‘must have auto industry experience’ or ‘must have pharmaceutical industry experience’; or a company that places huge value on an Ivy League or elite MBA degree. Little wonder why the advice everyone gets from every McKinsey consultant is the same no matter what the client company’s industry or situation is – and no matter what color, gender or country of birth of the consultant may be. They get the same advice because every consultant is a product of the same Ivy League education.
I have met with management teams from hundreds of companies and I know full well that the intelligence and liveliness of the discussion when presented with the prospect of radical change is driven almost entirely by the degree to which the folks making up the management team came from different paths – or not. When everyone around the table has a similar engineering degree and all came up through the industry not much is going to change in that company. And the fact that there may well be a few African Americans, women or people whose English may be a bit tough to understand has no bearing on it whatsoever. The debate will be limited to nuances in the path forward, but almost never on the basic direction of the path.
On the other hand, the team may well be all white males, or all females from Sierra Leone, but if they are a mix of people who learned their trade in varying industries and came from a broad range of educational backgrounds, lots of ideas are going to get kicked around.
A management team that is made up in the head person’s intellectual image is a weak team. Interviewing to assure the hiring candidate agrees with the current management’s thinking and strategies is a recipe for disaster. And tasking HR to perpetuate such narrow-mindedness, but to do so with folks of various skin colors and ethnicities and making sure a few women are sprinkled into the narrow minded herd misses the point and the power of diversity entirely.