The CEO Challenge: Managing a complex and diverse resource group in a global environment.

At the moment I am participating in a discussion on The CEO Network – the source for Chief Executives.  It is a LinkedIn Group and the discussion is about a question asked on the forum “Diversityhas been accused of being divisive and creating reverse discrimination.  Do you agree?”

Many of the respondents felt that diversity was divisive and many spent sometime refuting any of it’s positives, particularly that diversity does provide greater company performance.  Many said that people should be judged on talent alone, “The main criteria should always be tilted towards talent and ability” which is very true, however this does not allow for those that find barriers to the entry of roles that will allow them to display their talent.  Simply getting a job is difficult for some as a result of their gender, their colour, their race or ethnicity.  Some said that diversity was not their priority, they had managed fine without it,“living by, or caring about “diversity” in any form is just something that has never been an issue that I’ve ever had to have a hand in…” and that good living, caring about others and basically being sensible was all that was required to succeed.  For many white anglo-saxon men, diversity has never been an issue, because to be a white anglo-saxon man was to be at the top of the executive pile, it was (and still is in many cases) where the action is, where the rules are made and where the big deals are done.  I also believe that diversity can be divisive both not for the some reasons as I have quoted above.  I think it is divisive because it is change and, diversity and the recognition of difference can stir up feelings in people that they don’t want to confront.  It can bring to the forefront racist and sexist views and it can make some people feel threatened, insecure and left with a feeling that they are being treated unfairly.  However, I think that this is just a stage in the change cycle and with communication, education and some patience the divisiveness gives way to acceptance and recognition of the value of difference.
One vocal respondent in the discussion says that after commissioning many studies, there is still no clear link between gender diversity and increased company performance and he goes so far as to say that “We’ve (his organisation) challenged dozens of organisations and hundreds of individuals to provide evidence of a causal link between ‘improved’ gender diversity on boards and enhanced corporate performance, and not a single robust study has ever been forthcoming. We generally find correlation misrepresented as causation.”
That is currently the case from my research at least, but as my response below alludes, that doesn’t mean that “the world is indeed flat” and there is nothing else.
Throughout the discussion there were many arguing the case for diversity and this comment from a business man in Australia is one of the stand outs;
“I am very interested that (from this discussion) the UK and US have not had the excellent results we have found in Australia from hiring the best. I note here that a measurement of the best of leadership (Boards and corporate) clearly shows that having diversity, on average, supports out performance of those companies which do not.Perhaps this is the root cause of our current fiscal position in comparison to the other continents.”
We in Australia are too small in population not to embrace diversity, it is vital for our economic survival, we must ultilise every person resource to keep pace in a global economy.  Yet, we still lag behind in gender equality and don’t recognize our indigenous population as well as we could so there are still many barriers to overcome when it comes to promoting on ‘talent’ alone.  If there are barriers to you gaining an education, or losing valuable career building time because your gender requires that you keep the population going by having and rearing children then you will not be part of the available talent no matter how good you are.
 I made a number of comments via LinkedIn but have only put my final LinkedIn response below as the others would have required me to copy the other discussion items which I have not done for the privacy of the group.

“Susanne Moore • Mike and others, I am currently researching the Impact on Profit of Gender Diversity Programs. Just because no one has been able to prove a causal link doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that one does exist. You can see more about the research here.

What I do know is that the world has changed and CEO’s (and I was also one of those) do need to manage a complex and diverse resource group in a global environment. You only need to look at outsourcing to India and the Philippines to know that things have changed and managers need to understand how to manage that diversity. Does this make good economic sense and increase bottom line profit? It must otherwise we are foolish to continue with the outsourcing scenario. My area is Gender Diversity (meaning both genders) but diversity that we are talking about here is much broader so it shouldn’t be confused with misogyny, racism and bigotry. Of course, no company can spend money on fruitless social experiments, we need to make money and keep progressing. Image a world where only the educated were in power, where we limited education to children of certain gender and ethnicity (and this is currently happening), we don’t know what potentially brilliant new ideas we are missing out on. Much of the diversity debate at a social level is about providing access to those potentially talented resources that would not be found unless there was a more level playing field. I believe that there is an improved hit to the bottom line in terms of innovation and creativity, and a diverse way of thinking that a bunch of ‘like’ people can’t provide. If my research proves otherwise then so be it.”

I have included these comments here because I think it is important as Diversity and Gender Economists to hear the discourse around this subject.  There is clearly uncertainly and some fear that things are changing.  Understandable.  Things are changing.  We are in a diverse global economy, like it or not.  We will need to draw on all the diverse resources at hand, men, women, older workers, migrant and re-skilled workers.  We also need to learn how to manage the complex workforces that blend baby boomers and older workers with Gen X and Gen Y.  The economics are slightly different for every country, but no less complex and, in my opinion no less diverse.

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