I’m feeling a little mean today. I’m facing some sweeping tech system changes at work, which always puts me in a bad mood. So I thought I’d take this time to kvetch about something that just gets on my nerves. I’m talking eye rolling, lip smacking, facial expressions, the works.
What is it that creates such a strong, negative reaction you ask? It’s when someone asks for the business case for diversity.
I usually think, really? Then I think, are you kidding? Would you like to clarify that question, maybe be more specific if you need hard data with which to persuade the budget keepers to fund a new program or initiative? That I get. But if someone asks that question expecting someone else to explain to them why an organization or a leader should care about diversity, I say, poo.
Let me repeat that – poo.
If you’re a business professional – especially at a more senior level – working in almost any capacity in the global or even local marketplace, diversity is all around you, and it should be apparent why it’s important. That is essentially what people are saying when they ask, “What is the business case for diversity?” They’re asking, why is this important? Why does this deserve my time and attention? Why should I care to take action?
These are valid questions – if it was 1960 or even 1970 or 1980. But today? When changes in global demographics are obvious in the workplace and everywhere, when trends in buying power and discretionary spending center firmly on minority groups, when the most promising talent pools to combat skills and other shortages are also targeting minorities, those questions aren’t valid; they’re long overdue.
If a senior leader asks his or her chief diversity officer for the business case for diversity, I would heartily encourage that CDO to look for a new gig. I’m sorry. But any business leader worth their salt should know almost instinctively why diversity is important – if they have both eyes open, are willing to embrace change and to do what is necessary to build a culture that encourages innovation and growth, and sustain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
It’s one thing to have questions about inclusion, that’s procedural, process-oriented. It requires changes in systems and infrastructure that take time, thought and concentrated, consistent effort to build and sustain. But to question the actual value of diversity – which is what the business case is – that’s unacceptable.
To make such a query smacks of heads in the sand, and a willful, almost criminal dismissal or ignorance of changing realities in the marketplace. That question should be a historical footnote at this point in the game. It should be a part of the foundation you started building some time ago. We should all be figuring out the nitty gritty behind strategic diversity and inclusion management in recruiting, retention, development, rewards and recognition and performance management, among other things.
I’m sorry, leaders. Unless you come from a monolithic society where everyone buying, selling and working looks exactly the same, if you’re asking your diversity executive for the business case for diversity you’re out of order.
It would be like me asking our copy editor why do we have to deal with changes in AP Style? Language, like the marketplace, like the workforce, evolves. You either move along with the changes happening around you, or they move along without you. Diversity and inclusion is such a change. At this point you can’t get on board. The train left the station awhile ago. Just be ready and willing to jump on the next one.