OPINION: The business case for diversity is just offensive

by Oct 3, 20151 comment

The business case for diversity is not the secret sauce

I am constantly seeing and hearing the proponents of gender balance, both men and women, telling us that there is a business case for diversity. Shareholder value increases with gender balanced boards and companies, and other diversity measures.

In research from the Center for Talent Innovation, shared by the FT  it was noted that “publicly traded companies with two-dimensional diversity were 45 per cent more likely than those without to have expanded market share in the past year and 70 per cent more likely to have captured a new market.”

A recent study by McKinsey tells us that bridging gender gaps would make the world richer and add $28.4 trillion to the global economy.

Put more succinctly in every day language, to understand correctly, if a company simply respects individual rights and equal opportunity, it will be more profitable. Shareholders will make more money. It is an initiative propelled by financial gain. Women in particular jump with glee as if they have found the secret sauce for success. “We can make you more money”

It is that basic. And nothing short of offensive

Bottom line

Does this then suggest that those organisations operating without diversity policies have not been optimally run? What does this say about our current Captains of Industry? If the numbers argument wasn’t as persuasive, with no bottom line impact, would that mean that diversity initiatives would not be pursued?

To advocate for a business case for diversity runs rough shod over the notion of human rights. Advocating for equal opportunity should have a moral basis, not a business one. It is simply the right and fair thing to do. It should have nothing to do with the bottom line or annual report numbers. It should be rooted in our values.

The only time it can be less offensive if women would benefit from this notional $24.8 trillion in the global economy. We all know that even in developed economies the gender wage gap sticks at 20%.

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Organic change

The move for gender balance is not shifting at a rate that is going to achieve anything significant within the next decade if left to its own devices. Research from the E.U. tells us that organic change will only occur by 2080, by which time even Gen Y will be in old people’s homes or pushing up the daisies. There is no reason why 50% of the population, now the most highly qualified demographic, should be excluded from senior roles by out dated thinking and practises from previous centuries. Nor should the other 50% be denied the opportunity to have a meaningful family life and raise their children to make strong contributions to future societies.

And this is what we are talking about.

The future of work is the new buzz phrase, with moves for agile and lean organisational structures. During this process of evaluation, companies should factor in creating structures and employment practises that work better for both men and women, not because there is a business case for diversity, but because the skills of women are valued by society. The business case for diversity should be a bonus. No one ever talks about writing a business case for men do they?

It’s also just common sense to protect our futures .

Business as usual

We could of course carry on as we are in male dominated business cultures. But as we have seen with scandals in the last two weeks alone, with Volkswagen falsifying emissions results and the global corruption within FIFA, how well a lack of gender balance works.  Not to mention the financial crisis of 2007. In all these cases women are only obvious by their absence.

The idea of a business case for diversity is not just offensive. It should be stopped.

Margery is a Finance Director at an engineering company in Birmingham U.K.

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