Diversity is about performance

Diversity in your organisation is important, and in many cases, critical. Not being aware of the diversity in your organisation – at all levels – is dumb. Why? Because diversity creates value for your customers and captures value for your organisation. By Neil McGregor.

Diversity is about performance. Diversity and inclusion are concepts bandied around by many but properly practised by few.
Let’s nail what exactly is meant by diversity and inclusion.

 Diversity is about understanding that each individual is unique. Generally accepted factors that distinguish our differences can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, and political beliefs, but there are many other ideologies that can be used.

Inclusion is that all individuals and groups are accepted and consistently treated with unconditional respect regardless of their differences.

And that’s why diversity is important. It’s not about giving people jobs to statistically represent the make-up of the population so we can tell everyone how well we are doing on that metric. It’s about giving people jobs because they are the best people for that job – and diverse workforces serve diverse customer groups better. 

If you are running an enterprise that is providing goods and services to diverse customers, especially women (I say especially women because they are half the population) and you don’t have any women on your board or senior team, then you’re just plain dumb. 

This same argument stands for serving any demographic. They are all prosperous markets. How do you make decisions to secure some of these markets when not having access to the expertise required in the decision-making room? You must live and breathe your customers’ needs so you have to have their representatives in decision-making roles in your business. 

Additionally, diversity of thinking is more likely when you have a team made up of folk from different backgrounds, cultures and ways of looking at the world.

This in turn will provide you with an array of perspectives which are critical to being truly creative and innovative when addressing the problems and opportunities that constantly arise in business and/or government. 

So, answering the question of how well New Zealand is doing in the diversity and inclusion space is easy. We are rubbish at it. Human Synergistics has collected data on organisational culture in New Zealand (and most of the world) for more than 30 years. New Zealand is no better than anywhere else – or worse.  

In another example, a report from Grant Thornton identified the number of women in board positions has decreased, while those in senior management positions has increased but to a non-representative 20 percent compared to the international average of 25 percent. And we have 37 percent of organisations where women are not represented at all. The data on minority race groups is harder to find but do we think it will be representative? Not a chance.

When we look at high performing men and women separately using Human Synergistics Life Styles Inventory (LSI) tool we can report that their results look fundamentally the same. 

We can also report that when we look at poorer performing executives of these groups their results also look the same. 

But the interesting thing is we don’t do it on purpose. We have an unconscious bias around the way we do things. While there are very talented people everywhere we look, we don’t look everywhere.

Not having that many diverse people apply for jobs isn’t a skills problem, it’s an imagination problem. We need to understand our biases and deal proactively with them. We need to go looking for talent. 

But let’s be clear, the belief that affirmative action will generate the diversity we require to perform better is a myth.

Some folk report statistics gleefully extolling our diversity numbers but the evidence that this ‘forced’ move to ‘equality’ is changing our performance isn’t there, at least at a macro-level. We need to do more than paint the chess pieces different colours and expect things to change. We need to change the game. And we need to stop hiring people because of what they are and hire them because of who they are – the best people for the job. 

To do that we have to challenge ourselves around what best looks like – chances are it’s different to what you currently think.  


Neil McGregor is a leadership and culture consultant at Human Synergistics New Zealand. 

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