The Slippery Slope of Diversity Numbers | HR Fishbowl

Written on March 21, 2011 by Charlie in Environment

I understand the business case for building a diverse workforce…have for a long time. I also understand that ‘diversity’ goes far beyond race, or color, or ethnicity, or age, or gender. I’m a white male over 40 and I can tell you I’ve met very few white males over 40 that have the same kinds of experiences, have been raised by the same kind of family, and have done the same things as I. That makes me diverse. If you’re tempted to argue that point with me, just don’t. Because I’m right and you’re wrong.

I also understand the need for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) and all of its reporting requirements. Unfortunately, the commission is case-in-point that the world of employment law is based on the premise that the crimes of few result in the punishment of many. I honestly believe that most companies – and most individuals – really try to do the right thing when it comes to their employees. And most have very little deliberate intent in their souls to wrong another human being – on whatever basis. But I’m also naïve in many things of this world.

I am a strong believer that nothing about an Organization’s diversity efforts  – beyond educating our leaders and employees and heightening their awareness to and appreciation for the numerous (indisputable) merits of building a diverse workforce – should be deliberate. Just last week I was on the phone with some HR peeps who were talking HR metrics and analytics. One of them said, “our diversity numbers certainly aren’t where they need to be.” The operative word here is ‘need.’ Where exactly does an organization’s diversity numbers “need to be”? What does that mean? If we get to a gender split of 50/50 do we all pop the Champaign and go home? If we finally get that one Native American or Pacific Islander we’ve been looking for, do we all feel better about ourselves? I don’t. I feel better when I know we’ve developed and rely upon a sourcing strategy that’s diversified and thoughtful and thorough; that we’ve hired the right people for the right roles; that we give everyone the same access to the same kinds of opportunities based on their skills, capabilities, and interests. Those things happen when behaviors are aligned with intent and intent is aligned with what’s good for the business. Not because someone gave us a number to shoot for. Right?

Well, it really doesn’t matter what any of us think about this. In eight days (March 29, 2011), the U.S. Supreme Court will have a lot to say about whether there really is such a thing as “structural discrimination.” They will hear a class action which has really been in the making since 1994 contending Walmart has repeatedly discriminated on the basis of gender. And while the class action’s attorney admits they “cannot prove that the female plaintiffs suffered true discrimination…he nonetheless hopes to win back pay for a million women by claiming that Wal-Mart’s ‘corporate culture’ fostered companywide discrimination.” And he plans on doing this by relying primarily on statistics – numbers that he claims demonstrate women are treated as “second-class employees.”

I love numbers. They are really important and they help us understand a lot about a business. But if you give me a database, even I’m smart enough to produce any variety of graphs, charts, and statistics that can prove or disprove just about any theory you might have. If we start giving more credence to numbers and what they say about complex human behaviors, dynamic workplace matters, and the unruly beast that are humans, then we have started down a very slippery slope. And in that case, we will all be right back to paying very close attention to those numbers. And likely we will all start making bad business decisions because we are forced to allow some meaningless statistic dictate the kind of workforce ‘we need.’  There is only one group of people on this planet who can determine the kind of workforce your organization needs: those who lead it, manage it, and have a vested interest in its success day-in-day-out. And that group, my HR cohorts, includes you.

Image Credit: Sirlin

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