The best talent doesn’t always tick all the boxes
Diversity initiatives continue to spring up in organisations, and it’s good to see that companies are thinking about this issue.
For good reason, much of the attention focuses on supporting gender, race and culture, but there are also other important elements that we talk about less — for example, diversity in personality or thinking.
The archetype for many organisations is age 20 to 40something, dynamic, social and outgoing, no eccentricities or quirks — in all, someone with “leadership” qualities who is the “right fit”.
They have great interpersonal skills, are good at forging networks and navigate their way socially. You’ll notice this person out and about, and certainly in meetings.
Your recruitment effort will revolve around this fit. In-house or external recruiters will work hard to capture them.
Those who appear a bit different, are quieter or more reserved, or a bit older than your cohort, generally won’t make the cut, and if they do they may be hampered by often unconscious assumptions.
Sound familiar? Whatever side you come from you’ll know this drill. It’s embedded in the screening process, the interviews, the selection and feedback, and it feeds into perceptions of ability and performance, and decisions on pay and promotion.
While disheartening for the individual who doesn’t get the recognition they deserve, or the opportunity to show their skills, it is the organisation that misses out most.
Injecting difference creates opportunities you may not have envisaged, just like that secret ingredient in your favourite dish.
People who are different bring new thinking and a different lens. They bear the gifts of intelligence, creativity and inventiveness, and a richness you otherwise may not have. And like the rest of your team, they represent the population who will use or benefit from your product or service.
Often we pick people because of corporate laziness, a reluctance to take risks or the need for a quick fix. When we nurture, we focus on the mainstream and the assumption of a corporate ladder. Promotion draws on a definition of leaders that fits neatly within this frame: the big-L rather than the small-l leader. When we do this, we also diverge from any intentions we may have in promoting diversity.
It is well known that most people unconsciously hire in their own image, with less focus on values, potential and skills, or complementarity.
Diversity is not about percentages or quotas, it’s about a conscious cultural shift in the way that we value, in the way we work, in the way we perceive, in the way we organise, in the way
People who are different bear the gifts of intelligence, creativity and inventiveness
we lead, in the way we reward and even in the way we design our physical work environment.
All this taps back into leadership, culture and innovation. Just as diversity feeds these things, it needs these things.
Companies such as Microsoft and Zappos, the highly successful online business now owned by Amazon, get this.
Microsoft is highly proactive in seeking, supporting and embedding diversity across its business.
Zappos focuses largely on values rather than cultural fit. Zappos chief executive Tony Hsieh talks about “fun and a little weirdness” as some of the most important company values.
Diversity is really about fully embracing talent in its fullest sense and tapping the potential of each person in the way that fits best.
Companies need to rethink talent. Carole Goldin is a leadership consultant and coach supporting organisations and teams through transformation.