Diversity – the misunderstood concept

A farmer grows potatoes. At harvest, he selects his potatoes based on certain criteria. They have to be round and of medium size. This is what his buyer requires. But recently his buyer prefers a greater degree of variety. He also calls it “diversity.” The old criteria remain in place, but 20% of the potatoes can now also be small, but not too small. The farmer abides by it. The desired diversity is achieved. All is well.

In another village, there is another farmer who also grows potatoes. His premise at harvest is that each potato is all right as it is.

The first farmer apparently is pursuing something that can be described as diversity management – clear goals, goal-oriented actions, key indicators, etc. The second farmer may not even know the word. He doesn’t have to not know it. In a diversity audit against quality management principles he would probably flunk. So here is the real question: Which of the two farmers achieved a higher level of diversity?

This simple analogy makes clear what is involved in diversity and how diversity is often misunderstood. Diversity is not a matter of statistics. It cannot really be expressed in terms of numbers, as many companies are trying to do. When it comes to diversity, these companies refer to bar graphs, pie charts, percentages, etc. They confuse diversity with statistical difference and distribution of various features (variety). Diversity, however, is primarily a question of attitude, which leads to differences. The result is neither the cause nor any real significance. The real meaning of diversity lies in the appreciation of individuality.

In some of my keynotes I show the image above and ask, “would you hire this lady as the head of your accounting department?” If you think “not in a million years,” then diversity management would be of no assistance either. But if you say, “not sure, I cannot judge that based on this image alone. If she is qualified, sure, why not?” then you have fully assimilated the concept of diversity.