I have really grown quite weary of the “Diversity” debate. Let me be clear: a leader’s job is not to build a diverse culture, but a rich and productive culture – they are not always one and the same. This blog was recently nominated for Kevin Eikenberry’s Best Leadership Blogs of 2010, and I noticed recently that Kevin was taking heat from the gender police for having only one woman on the list of nominees. Kevin responded to that comment by saying he doesn’t read for gender, he reads for content. I’ll take it one step further – I can’t really think of any issue that should be argued or decided solely on the merits of diversity. In fact, let me take it up even another notch…with the exception of seeking diversity of thought, diversity should be a non-issue altogether. In the text that follows I’ll make my case for resting on your qualifications and performance not your ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, etc.

Those of you familiar with my writing know that I often take the unpopular side of an issue if I believe it worthy of mention. In today’s post I’ll likely evoke the ire of many, because I will point out things that should be common sense for business people, which need to be publicly stated, but rarely are. It is not my intent to offend anyone with the text that follows, and if you find yourself being offended, it is my opinion you need to examine your motives and principles. The issues of diversity in business when handled properly can be catalysts for growth. However this is not the case in most instances, and as a result, diversity has become one of the leading killers of corporate productivity.

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, without access to other people or the media at large, 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 diversity, but rather how it is dealt with…

You see, I have no problem whatsoever with the concept of equal opportunity, so long as it is not misunderstood, misapplied, or mandated.  You will never see me deny all human beings are created equal, and that those of us in the United States are recognized to have been endowed with certain inalienable rights. However I refuse to make business decisions that are not in the best interests of the business, simply to appeal to the wrong groups for the wrong reasons. Don’t make your case by playing the diversity card, play the I’m qualified card. Compete on your merits, 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.

I will onshore, offshore, outsource, insource, or execute whatever business strategy I implement without regard for diversity. In evaluating any relationship in the value chain I’m looking for value, talent, performance, leverage, efficiency, economy of scale, work ethic, integrity, character, discipline, and many other traits irrespective of your skin color, age, etc. I care about your contribution to the enterprise at every level – not just culturally. I don’t mean to downplay culture, as a diverse corporate culture is something to be strived for, but only if quality is not sacrificed.

As a CEO, when you start to lower the chinning bar by allowing for the hiring of someone based more on their diversity segment than their talent, you are enabling the demise of your enterprise. Case in point is Wal-Mart CEO, Lee Scott, who is so concerned with diversity mandates that Wal-Mart officers are held financially accountable by tying officer incentive bonuses to achieving diversity goals. Do you really want to financially incentivize your executives to make hiring decisions that place a greater value upon diversity mandates than qualifications? By the way, employee performance and morale at Wal-Mart is near all time lows…

Diversity mandates just don’t work…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 and resentment grows. The simple truth is that lowering standards is never a good thing in any environment. A sense of entitlement is not a substitute for work ethic and a desire to achieve. By maintaining the highest of standards you force people to raise their game and be the best that they can be. Anything other than this fosters unhealthy dependencies that bring out the worst in people, and not the best they have to offer.

“Diversity” has never been an issue for me simply because I don’t make business decisions based upon social mandates or politically correct thinking.  Over the years I have had clients, employees, vendors, suppliers, partners, etc., of virtually every diversity segment. I have done business with those old and young, gay and straight, physically and mentally gifted, and physically and mentally challenged. I have worked with those that are in shape, out of shape, and of all races, creeds, and cultures. I have done business with the highly religious, the agnostic, and the atheist. In each and every case my decisioning had nothing to do with diversity. My decisions had to do with business.

My point is simply this…Never is my business conducted on the basis of diversity. I choose those I do business with based upon doing the right thing, rather than doing things right. I care about what is in the best interests of the business and those we serve more than what someone thinks about my employee mix. When it comes down to a hiring decision, I simply don’t care about your race, but I care greatly about whether you are the best person for the job. I will not promote you based on your ethnicity, gender, age, etc, but I will promote you based upon your performance.

The diversity argument is divisive and only serves to enable unqualified people to gain an advantage over those who are qualified. My advice is simple – don’t identify yourself based on diversity segment, identify yourself by your accomplishments and your character. Stop whining about phantom injustices and become better at what you do.

Let the attacks begin – I’ll publish any comments that are civil…


Image credit: Northrop Grumman

Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt

Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Boards of Directors. Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership. He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership (Wiley) and Leadership Matters… (OP), a Forbes leadership columnist, and is the Founder and Chairman at N2Growth.

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