The value of diversity?

I will start this post by noting that I’m not a specialist in any form of diversity other than national cultural differences, and that I wholeheartedly embrace the logic of organizations being open to attract the best talent irrespective of origin and orientation and to create an environment in which everyone can feel included and effective.

I was recently invited to participate in a diversity program for a major multinational company. There were sections to the program around gender diversity driven by the recognition that 85% of purchase decisions in this product category (and I understand this is pretty common) were made by women.

The logic ran that this organization needed more women in marketing to be able to really understand this important, majority segment of their market. In trying to understand what we were trying to achieve I asked: “What is the business objective?” I was told that it was to increase the proportion of women in marketing. So I asked. “In order to do what?” to try to get to the underlying business rationale.

kevan Hall 72dpiI asked if the objective was to increase the proportion of sales that were made by women to above 85%. It seemed to me that if the objective really was around diversity than this percentage was already too high and perhaps the diversity question was why they were not appealing to men who represent nearly 50% of the potential market. (This wasn’t a specifically “male” or “female” oriented product).

Furthermore, a largely male marketing group seem to have done a pretty good job of marketing to women if they represent 85% of the sales of their very successful product and brand. By that logic, perhaps more women in marketing would bring insights that would help them appeal more to men?

If this argument is irritating you, then that’s pretty much what happened in the meeting. The business objective went largely unstated and unchallenged.

If we apply that logic to other areas of diversity e can see the problem. If 85% of our job applicants were men, would we recruit more male HR managers to recruit them better? Or would we look at ways to appeal more to female applicants?

Having spent part of my weekend walking round a large shopping center in London it’s not surprising that 85% of retail purchases are made by women. There was not a single shop that catered for my over 50 male demographic.  I made a point of checking body language and facial expressions of the couples I walked past, generally the women looked happy with their experience, most of the men looked on the edge of despair.

To return to the serious point, the moral case for diversity is obvious, however we need to think carefully about the business case because if we don’t think it through we may end up perpetuating demographic or other imbalances in the way we do business – and that’s the opposite of diversity.

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