Have you ever wondered why:
• So few women run companies around the world
• Even fewer American companies are run by Japanese men
• There are more tall male leaders than short male leaders
• Pakistani leadership is filled with cricket fans but not racquetball players
Chances are it has nothing to do with outright bias or intentional discrimination. So what happens?
Where is the diversity? Businesses around the world have had diversity as a "must do" in their mission statements for years, in some cases for a decade or more. Multinational companies swear by diversity but behind the scenes swear at it. "Diversity is no longer a nice to have -- it is a need to have" say many annual reports which are filled with diverse people smiling out from the pages. In my new book The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity I call that the Noah's Ark theory of diversity -- if we could just get two of each in the Ark, we will have accomplished our goal of diversity! Unfortunately, the results are not promising; diversity has not actually truly happened after all this time, after all the effort and money spent.
What makes it hard for diverse companies to become, well, diverse? I saw a slogan that read "We hire for difference and fire because they are not the same."
In The Loudest Duck I explain why diversity in reality is a lot harder to accomplish than many in management think and why the sea level on diversity has not risen by much. I have worked on leadership and diversity issues for many years -- studied it, spoken about it, researched it and ran organizations. Why is Noah's Ark so hard to really make work? Because the giraffe unconsciously looks at the zebra and thinks "He is funny looking with that stupid short neck and silly black and white stripes. I, the giraffe, am much more capable with my long neck and beautiful brown and white spots."
The argument is not that diversity and heterogeneity are not worthwhile and extremely valuable for competing and getting the best, most creative ideas. It is that to create a true meritocracy and a place where all diverse ideas are heard and diverse people promoted fairly requires much more consciousness of what we think about others and how we react to them, especially if they are different from us. Diversity requires leaders to have more tools in their toolbox than if they were managing a homogeneous workforce.
In The Loudest Duck I talk about how we all bring Grandma to work with us. Who is Grandma? She is the accumulation of everything we learn about ourselves and others. We learn from our parents, peers, teachers, the media, religion, experience, toys, history, myths and legends. We are all taught from Day 1 about the world and that "learning" seeps unconsciously into our brains and it determines how we see the world and others, particularly others who are different than we are.
Grandma teaches American men that it is okay to brag, to trumpet their successes at work. For them, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Grandma teaches women around the world that there is a social penalty for doing that. (She's too ambitious or pushy.) Grandma teaches the Chinese to be modest. They are taught from early on that "the Loudest Duck gets shot." In a diverse American company, the American male manager hears the wheel and not the duck. He hears other American men bragging but hears nothing from the woman or the Chinese man and unconsciously leans toward the American man for the promotion, the pay raise, the better assignments.
Or the boss is an avid cricket fan. That is not a problem if the people who work for him are too. They get together, watch games, talk about the teams and the boss gets comfortable with those people who work for him. But in a diverse company not everyone is a cricket lover. The non-cricket aficionado is put just slightly at a disadvantage because he has less access and familiarity with his manager. The manager, a good person, brings Grandma to work with him and slightly, unconsciously favors the cricket fans.
My book explains why companies have to be far more thoughtful about their diverse workforce and how they are perceived in order to create a level playing field for all. It is not the diversity that is the challenge; it is how we handle the diversity that speeds some people's careers up and slows others down. And usually it can be seen in the phenomenon of like being comfortable and looking favorably on others who are like them. The Loudest Duck explores the dynamics of dominant groups and non-dominant groups in organizations and the subtle advantage that goes to those in the former category and the subtle disadvantage that accrues to those who don't look like the dominant group.
No one ever got to the top of the organization by saying "The reason I made it to the top is that I was subtly advantaged. I got to the top because the company is fair and meritocratic." In a diverse company that is most likely completely untrue. As Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book, Blink 16% of men in the United States are 6' 2" or taller but 57% of Fortune 500 male leaders are 6'2" or taller. We bring unconscious archetypes and beliefs about the attributes of tall versus short into our diverse workplace.
Diverse companies can be much better and more creative, much more profitable and able to succeed globally ONLY if they are aware and conscious of all we bring in preconceived notions of who others are. Leaders become aware that their experiences at work are NOT the same as others' in Noah's Ark. The tall white man at the top of the organization may think the world happens to others as it happens to him. It does not.
The Loudest Duck provides leaders and employees tools to make sure that diversity actually works to the benefit of all.
Follow Laura Liswood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LauraLiswood