I have really grown quite weary of the “Diversity” debate. It’s not that the diversity discussion doesn’t have merit; it does. The problem is that people are having the wrong conversation. They are arguing the wrong points for the wrong reasons. Diversity has been hijacked by those who have a political agenda, and many leaders have simply surrendered to the pressure. Let me be clear: a leader’s job is not to play politics, but rather to set the table where a rich and productive culture can flourish. Translation; the creation of a diverse culture.

Let’s start with a reality check… There is no doubt that we live in a diverse world. Unless you live on an isolated mountain top, it would be difficult to get through the day without being impacted by issues of ethnicity, race, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, physical appearance, mental and physical challenges, etc. However, from my perspective, the issue is not whether we recognize or incorporate diversity, but rather how it is dealt with that matters.

Reframing the Conversation

Let’s shift the conversation away from injustices, rights, and mandates. Stop talking about differences as a bad thing, and start talking about how differences make us better by creating advantage and opportunity. The best talent and most capable leaders trade on their qualifications, track record, and performance – not their ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, etc.

A Case Study On Diversity

What I’m espousing is more than theory and rhetoric. It’s based on the first-hand experience. The best case study in diversity I can think of is my own firm. Our company is one of the most diverse organizations you’ll find anywhere – just take a look at our team page. We have teammates than span virtually every diversity segment. At first blush, it would appear that we wouldn’t be able to agree on anything. The fact of the matter is that we disagree on many things, and that’s one of the things that make our culture so vibrant. That said, we’ve aligned on the most important things; our values.

We have not only collectively established our company values, but we strive to operationalize them on daily basis. As I like to say, “We eat our own cooking”. Mostly what we believe in is one another. We care for and about one another and have each other’s backs. Differences in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other “diversity segment” are viewed as strengths. We care about the things that really matter; people’s attitude, energy, character, and contribution.

When we add a new teammate we look at the whole human being. Sure, we absolutely look at their track record of leadership, judgment, how they work with others, and the quality of work they produce. But aside from those obvious things, we look for how they’ll make us a better team, and how we’ll help them grow as a teammate.

We thrive on the diversity of thought, intellectual curiosity, a growth mindset, self-awareness, the willingness to embrace dissenting opinions, new thinking, and better thinking. If everyone within an organization looks alike and thinks alike, that organization has unknowingly sentenced themselves to mediocrity and eventual irrelevance.

Bottom Line

Running a top executive search firm, I can say with great certitude that Talent begets talent, and blending occurs naturally when good decisions are made for the right reasons. When you force the diversity agenda for the wrong reasons (no matter how well-intended) productivity suffers, walls go up, and resentment grows. Just hire great human beings that care, and they’ll attract others who feel similarly. It’s really not that hard.

When it comes to hiring and the topic of diversity, I only care about one thing: will you being here make the team better/stronger? My best advice to candidates is this: Don’t make your case by playing the diversity card, play the I’m qualified card. Compete on your merits,  and not why your lack thereof should be overlooked. If you’re not qualified, don’t try to work around your lack of qualifications, go get the qualifications you need to compete. Compete on the entirety of who you are as a human and let your diversity shine through as a unique quality that shapes your distinct world view. Compete on your differences to be sure, but don’t use diversity as a hammer looking for a nail.

“Diversity” is not an issue or challenge for our company. We don’t view it as a barrier. We see it as an advantage. It is what shapes our culture and makes us who we are as an organization.

Thoughts?