Riddell: Businesses beware ‘the diversity trap’
Not Business As Usual
Diversity is a mainstream topic in today’s society. The old American melting pot adage is now a target of political correctness.
“From many to one” has been replaced with “From many to even more.” Whether pertaining to race, gender, sexual orientation, weight, height, religion, or whatever, the underlying theme today is one of championing individual differences. Inherent in this “championing” is the perceived requirement of those not in the particularly singled out group to know, respect, and indeed honor those particular traits that the signature group holds to be of importance. Awareness of differences has given way to a demand for compliance to the differences.
While certainly fuel for political fodder, this trend has also spread to the realm of business management. The thinking goes that today’s business managers are expected to be knowledgeable in all aspects of diversity, experts in every nuance and sub category of social difference. Indeed, there has arisen a whole industry devoted to diversity training in the workplace. I submit to you that this intention is largely misguided and practically impossible for most managers to successfully implement.
Consider for a moment a young production manager trying his or her best to squeeze out just a couple more pennies of efficiency. This manager knows that the company’s competitive environment requires this squeeze or the company will not survive. Taking into consideration this young manager’s awareness of the need and social desirability of maintaining the labor force, should his or her attention be best directed toward trying to get everyone involved to understand the magnitude of the stakes and actively try to contribute or should the efforts be directed to ensuring an employee “feels good,” that his or her individuality is respected? Said differently, should a manager focus on building commonality or championing differences?
In private industry, the answer is glaringly obvious. The marketplace is a great filter for uncovering a lack of unified focus by a company. Commonality, aka successful focus in achieving the business’s goals, is the only means to sustainable viability. A company’s sustainable viability is the only means to sustainable employment for its employees. Sustainable employment, of course, translates into individual economic prosperity for all participants.
Now this is not to suggest that business management has a license to disregard those cultural aspects that an employee may hold dear. Quite the contrary — valuable contributors to a company’s success need to be recognized for their value and treated as such. Their value, however, is a function of their contribution, not of their individual birthright. Recognizing and rewarding an individual’s contribution to the team’s success can be a powerful motivator for other team members. Peer pressure in terms of job security really does work.
In private industry, people come to work for a variety of different personal reasons. But whatever the personal reason, this goal can only be realized if the business is successful. Given the harshness of the marketplace, successful companies know that to make progress in a turbulent sea of competition, they have to have everyone pulling on the oars at the same time.
This is championing commonality for the benefit of the individual. These companies leave the championing of differences to their employees’ lives outside of their business, both in the public and private domains.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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