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Diversity in the workplace: Are we all just asking the wrong question?

Diversity in the workplace: Are we all just asking the wrong question?
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” So said Henry Ford on why he used his own initiative to develop the mass produced automobile – and the same logic can be applied to the issue of gender equity across organisations today.

The reason Mr Ford didn’t ask the American people what they wanted was because he knew it was the wrong question.

Roughly 100 years on the same logic can be applied to managing diversity in the workplace. People keep asking, ‘Are there enough women in senior management roles?’ In my view, that’s not the right question. The right question is, ‘Is there enough great talent in the senior management pipeline to drive organisations forward?

Viewed this way, diversity in the workplace is not ultimately about gender equality – it is about leadership success.

Here’s an example. We recently tested a client’s senior executive team for individual leadership capabilities. Like many organisations, the ratio of men to women on this executive team was a long way from 50:50.

Pre-empting the results, I said, ‘If the capability of your female executives turns out to be at least equal to the capability of men, then something is wrong with your selection and promotion of women. Because if women’s capability is equal it should naturally follow that they will represent 50% of your senior leaders. And if that’s not the case there’s something wrong with the way you’re selecting and promoting women.’

Not surprisingly, the findings came back that the female executives were not only just as capable at leadership as men, they were in many cases more capable than men.

And this wasn’t an isolated case. Hudson research shows time and again that females have as good as – if not better – leadership capabilities as men. In fact, Hudson research from 2013 examining the skills of C-suite executives found women outperformed men on Mental Flexibility, Personal Drive and Managing Complexity & Change.

So let’s return to what I think the real question is when looking at programs targeting diversity in the workplace: ‘Is there enough great talent in senior management roles to drive organisations forward?’ Put another way, are we systematically blind to a powerful source of talent right before our eyes?

Gender diversity programs may appear to be about getting women into leadership positions, but that’s an outcome, not what they are ultimately about. What they are ultimately about is illuminating any blind spots and ensuring organisations have the best people possible in leadership positions. What they are about is improving business outcomes.

Is your company experiencing the benefits of diversity in the workplace?

Simon Moylan is the Executive General Manager, Talent Management, for Hudson Asia Pacific. He is responsible for Hudson's Talent Management business – which specialises in selection, engagement, development and transition of people in order to maximise an organisation’s potential.
 
 
 

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