Expand the talent pipeline. Fish in the ocean.
What do you get if you fish in a goldfish bowl? Right goldfish!
[Tweet “Expand the talent pipeline. Start fishing in the talent ocean! “]
Why quotas aren’t wrong
In a recent article, for the Harvard Business Review, Nilofer Merchant came out with all guns blazing. Not that board quotas are ill advised or badly thought out, no, they are simply wrong. Now, notwithstanding that sensationalist headlining might play a role here, it does seem a tad extreme and I will tell you why!
She cites 4 main reasons for this statement which bother me :
1.Quotas signal tokenism.
Anyone who remembers equal pay and anti – discrimination legislation in the 70s could tell Nilofer, that the successful women did indeed have to endure comments about tokenism and needed to be twice as good as their male counterparts to succeed. Some organisations would have been more than happy to carry on paying one demographic less than another, because it saved them money. It is the efforts of women involved in those initiatives (I was one myself) who had to cope with “she was only hired because she was a woman” comments, but successfully dealing with that snide sub-text has paved the way for women today to achieve professional success.
So no, quotas simply signal the making of a forcible dent in an outdated business model, because a high number of organisations refuse to respond voluntarily. Change has historically been resisted by many in all fields, until it is absolutely necessary – so a gentle shove is well needed.
2. Groups don’t change dynamics until they decide to change their dynamics.
“If change is imposed from external pressures, groups simply find a way around the new rules.” For sure this is what we are seeing , resistance to change. Why? Because life is cosy at the top and Nilofer is part of that club now! And good luck to her too! But with an effective selection process involving creative players outside the current business model thinking, there is no reason why this should happen more than it does now. There are all sorts of shenanigans going on in many organisations to avoid what is required, desirable or even legal. We have a wealth of superb female talent out there.
[Tweet “There is no reason to hire men in skirts. “]
3. Quotas don’t necessarily increase the right kind of diversity.
“It’s possible to improve the gender ratio of boards without improving the diversity of the conversation.” I’m sure this could be true. However, it is incumbent on women who have already achieved these senior level positions to direct changes in the conversations, to avoid maintaing that party line. It is also about the search process itself, which should involve both creative thinkers and women, going beyond “copy paste selection“, which simply taps into the same old talent pool. Many organisations prefer this route because it’s easier and more comfortable.
[Tweet “But after all, if you fish in a goldfish bowl you are only going to get one kind of fish.”]
4. Quotas de-emphasize qualifications.
I think this depends on how we define qualifications. We are pre-conditioned to look at a certain prescribed type of background and experience and any search or talent management specialist will tell you, that profiles can often be significantly inflated. We are constantly being told to “think out of the box”, well perhaps the box needs to be bigger or even changed and now is the time to be creative and innovative.
[Tweet “Does failure to innovate suggest a leadership lacking in vision?”]
60% of graduates are women – how can they be under qualified?
One area where I do agree with Nilofer, is that creating a gender balanced talent pipeline starts way downstream with strategic career planning and development from the outset, so that women get the right kind of experience, especially outside sectors and functions which are becoming increasingly feminised.
It’s not just about bumping women onto boards willy-nilly. But to do that successfully, we need to get out of the goldfish bowl and start fishing in the talent ocean, where there is real and diverse choice and to mentor women at critical points in their careers.
And women themselves have to take charge of their own careers and move out of their comfort zones. Inroads are being made into organisational systems, but only they can make the complete breakthrough.
[Tweet “Time to fish in the ocean!”]
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