Companies across India are looking at how to have Diversity at the Leadership level – and mostly they refer to lack of women in management. But diversity is not only about female and male, gay or straight, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, young or old. It is about the diversity of individuals, ideators and executors, great communicators and less so, introverts and extroverts, controlling type and people type as well.

Diversity and Inclusion are nearly not the same things. Diversity by itself does not make people feel they belong — inclusion does. Diversity by itself does not accommodate differences of opinions — inclusion does. Diversity helps build inclusion by bringing in diverse viewpoints and creating an atmosphere in which people feel valued and have the same opportunities as others. Being an inclusive organization — where people focus on building common ground incorporating a range of views — rather than focus on differences can be a very powerful growth strategy.

Diversity is not a set of affirmative actions imposed on the organization — it is an output of the culture of the organization. Without adequate diversity being a lone female employee in a consistently all-male leadership team or being part of a minority where the leadership team converses in a regional language is common across the Indian tech industry. For an individual caught in that situation, it is difficult to feel motivated.

This McKinsey study shows a significant relationship between a diverse leadership team and better financial performance. The top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform the industry average compared to companies in the bottom quartile. For ethnic diversity, that number jumps to 35%.

If the data proving that diverse organizations are more productive is not enough the cautionary tales from movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp should provide the impetus for tech companies to address diversity in their organizations.

What does diversity do?

Diversity at the leadership level is a consequence of hiring people who bring new perspectives to management meetings. Diversity is good because,

  • It gives you a larger pool of ideas: Diverse leadership teams have a larger pool of experience and points of view to draw from, which can help with finding solutions to problems and generating new ideas.
  • It increases staff retention and motivation: Seeing people ‘like them’ in positions of power is very inspiring for employees to stay longer in the organization and strive for promotions themselves
  • It gives you a larger talent pool to choose from: Diverse organizations find it easier to attract great and have a larger talent pool to choose from.
  • Makes for better business linkages: People from different groups and backgrounds often bring unique connections with them, which can lead to more networking opportunities for your company.
  • Makes for better Communication: Diverse companies are less likely to create tone-deaf and sometimes offensive communication than if they had a more varied group of decision-makers.

Lack of diversity stems from bias

People are hired on the premise that they can perform on the job and technical evaluations are pretty accurate. However, most organizational problems stem from a different place — that people don’t get along with other people. Biases in hiring and working together are the greatest bottlenecks. Families, friends, peers, education, religion, ambition etc influences how we see the world, and ourselves. These biases also shape our perceptions of what people are capable of.

A lecture on diversity will not erase these biases. Diversity is deeply related to culture and culture is difficult to change. If it must then it must first change at the top.  Developing diversity involves a cultural change and requires workshops, identifying and creating role models but most of all it involves a commitment by the organization’s leadership.

Building Diversity

The first step towards building diversity is actively seeking diverse people and seeking information from this diverse group. People from diverse backgrounds need to be seen as key variables in the process of problem-solving and decision making. Building diversity across an organization can only happen if there is an atmosphere where they can express their views without fear of repercussion. They can approach colleagues and manager for help and will not be viewed as weak if they do.

The Diversity Checklist

  • Leadership commitment: The first step is having leaders within the organization become visibly involved in programs affecting organizational culture change and articulating policies that govern diversity. To do so, you must display leadership that eradicates oppression of all forms.
  • Having a Diversity and Inclusion strategy is not enough: Having a strategy has no meaning if it is not reflected in who the company hires and promotes. It only when the CEO downwards the organization realizes that to be the best they need to embrace diversity there is has a higher probability of being really inclusive, including right at the top.
  • Hiring from a range of backgrounds: Hire people who can bring new perspectives to your management meetings and relate personally with a wide range of your employees. But making culture more inclusive the first stop is the leadership team. Employees will always notice who you promote into positions of power.
  • ‘Diversity quotas’ are a double-edged sword: When you set ‘diversity quotas’ for your organizational and leadership teams, ensure that you are not dismissing good people for the sake of diversity. You don’t need a checklist of genders, ethnicity, religions, abilities and sexual orientations to promote talent you need caliber.
  • Building high-performance teams: Moving your workforce from larger organizations to teams that use the full potential of every individual is a great idea. Teams focused on objectives are forced to accept others for what they are.

Conclusion

Diversity is not just diversity in race, religion, sex, age but it is what makes an organization succeed — and typically that requires men & women, introverts & extroverts, controllers & thinkers, dreamers & doers, organizers & team members to reach the organizational goals.