Diversity – The Absurdity of Non-Practice: A Reflection

I liken the above topic to the following story:

Two friends, Jack and Jill were on their way home from a party in the early hours of the morning. As they sat in their cab ride home Jack said to Jill, “Remind me to get some milk at ‘The 24hr Shop’ around the corner from home”. Jill replied: “We’re at least 30mins away from home, its 2am, will it be open?” Jack looked at her disbelievingly and responded: “What kind of a question is that Jill? It is called ‘The 24hr Shop’. Of course it will be open!!”

I have often wondered why many organisations remain hesitant at placing Diversity at the very heart of overall business strategy. Indeed, many organisations request a business case for diversity to further justify reasons for ‘engaging’ it as a business area. What this may point to, I suggest, is a gap in understanding. It is not business that creates diversity rather it is the very fact of diversity that creates business. Diversity is the coming together of different individuals from cross socio-cultural backgrounds and the different creative ideas they possess that leads to the development of new and fresh strategies needed to create, and keep businesses afloat so that they remain sustainable and competitive.

It is little wonder then that organizations that do not see the fundamental connection between diversity and overall business strategy commit a fundamental flaw in the logic of business strategy akin to the story above: Just as ‘The 24 hrs Shop’ implies within its title that it ought to be open for 24hrs, so too business practice ought to imply the practice of diversity as fundamental to its very existence. Indeed, a 24 hrs shop that is not in fact open for 24 hrs creates a logical absurdity in our minds regarding the choice of the name of the shop. In the same vein, I argue, businesses that do not have diversity as fundamental to business practice commit a logical absurdity in understanding business creation, development and continued sustainable operational success.

 The dilemma described above amounts to a basic question of understanding. How is diversity to be actually understood? As an ‘equality target’ to be met, or as concerning the individual as individual? I suggest that the correct viewpoint is to understand diversity from the perspective of the individual – seen as a hub of socio-cultural talent with creative abilities that organisations need to remain competitive in the global market place. Unfortunately, many organisations still understand diversity purely as a ‘legislative requirement’, to be about meeting ‘equality targets’, or simply as an ‘add-on’ functionality that ticks the box of ‘visible’ compliance and/or best practice.

Diversity in this understanding becomes a means to an end and not an end in itself. This tainted understanding of diversity distorts how we then view individuals, seeing them through their symptoms (ethnicity, gender, disability, etc) instead of the creative ideas (or talent) they possess.  This in turn facilitates a tokenistic approach to workforce representation, thereby completely missing the point of what diversity actually is, and how it should be intricately connected to talent management/development leading to organizational growth and sustainability. The practice of ‘diversity’ from this perspective is an absurdity. And it is an absurdity, I suggest, precisely because it appears to be enforced by legislation for ‘equalitising purposes’ rather than by a genuine rational appreciation of the uniqueness of socio-cultural talent needed to drive and sustain competitive advantage in the 21st century marketplace.

By way of an analogy: I have often admired the principles of raw intelligence and rational tact that govern the game of Chess. The intelligent placement of each gaming piece on the chess board (i.e., the King, the Queen, the Pawn, the Bishop, etc) forms the strategy that one uses to out-do his/her opponent each time. The winning formula, which is purely rational, is dependent on the level of rational tact deployed within the rules of the game against ones opponent.

Diversity within business practice is a bit like a game of Chess – with rules that if not followed in an attempt to out-do an  opponent can be classified as absurd. Just as it would be completely illogical within the game of Chess to have a board full of only Queens and Castles, so too within business practice it is absurd not have individuals from cross socio-cultural backgrounds to ensure the greater availability of tactical moves to remain competitive. Indeed, I would go further to argue that though the Queen and Castle may possess great powers, they are unable to maximize those powers without the needed assistance of the other gaming pieces – the Pawn, Knight, King, etc. Business practice that does not engage in viable talent management and development strategies to ensure the assembly of cross socio-cultural ideas (or powers) needed to remain sustainable and competitive will in the 21st century ‘global’ approach to business start to see their winning streaks begin to drop – it is simply an unspoken rule of business practice in what is now a ‘global’ economy.

I do need to draw out one further analogy from the game of Chess however: It is fundamental to the rules of the game that the Knight (for example) be moved in a particular way to out-do an opponent. If the Knight is moved in a straight line as opposed to an ‘L’ pattern for example, such a move would be categorised as illogical or absurd. Subsequent moves after this ‘illogical’ move would not be allowed for the game to viably continue: Not following the rules of business that we have proposed in this article – having diversity as core to business strategy – is in fact an ‘illogical’ move and is absurd for the viability of business practice. Indeed, I would further argue that just as one would probably need to re-start the entire game again after a number of illogical moves have been made, so too businesses need to return to the ‘source’ of what good business practice is in order to remain competitive. The terms ‘inequality’, ‘discrimination’ and  ‘under-representation’ understood in this ‘new interpretation’ are in fact terms arising out of ‘illogical’ business practice due to making the initial wrong move – not placing and practicing diversity as core to its business strategy. This is an absurdity.

The attempts by organisations to ‘rectify’ the problems of the non-practice of diversity such as gender under-representation at Board Level via inclusion strategies’, ‘social cohesion agenda’s’ and ‘equality schemes’ are simply like pouring water over a ducks back if they do not return to the very basics and treat the actual disease itself. ‘Equality remedies’ of this nature, no matter how good-willed they may be, will only be able to address the symptoms (gender, disability, ethnicity, etc) with very little difference and as such are unfortunately doomed to fail in the long term.

The dividends that can ensue when organisations come to the realisation that diversity must precede viable business practice can be absolutely immense; higher talent retention, employee engagement, reduced presenteeism and absenteeism, workforce agility, increased competitiveness, organizational sustainability, etc – it is diversity that creates businesses, not businesses that create diversity.

If organisations follow the unspoken rules of viable competitive practice, they will inevitably remain sustainable, competitive and therefore profitable. And where the competitive game is not won, what is needed is to simply take a step back, return to ‘the source’ of organisational thinking and re-define the business strategy for out-doing ‘the competition’.

Now that would not be absurd – it would in fact be…the right move!

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