Diversity: Survival Of The Most Adaptable
I just finished MCing a conference for an industry association of holiday park owners. They were a really down-to-earth group of people who got on really well because they had much in common – as people, not just by virtue of the nature of the work they did. Most were owner-operator couples. For the sake of simplicity, albeit probably not accuracy, let’s say husband and wife teams. They all had serious ‘skin in the game’ with massive personal investments in their businesses and many with significant debt-based investment. Many were carrying on a legacy from generations past of holiday camp ownership and management. Apart from being business owners, their choice of vocation was also very much driven by lifestyle choice with many camps in remote destination locations next to beaches, glaciers, etc. As a result of all this commonality, they got on well, had shared values and common goals, and it was a hell of a final night award dinner party.
Yes, there was commonality but there was by no means homogeneity.
I haven’t got the latest census figures to hand and I’m not gong to rattle off the stats around what proportion of the general population is young / old, male / female, and by whatever other criteria we can be distinguished from each other. My general belief is that it’s helpful if your team can represent the population of customers it serves. If this applied to holiday parks, they’d need to have half of their employees being Aussies. Nevertheless, they were a diverse group, especially on a gender basis, which warrants some applause even today (sadly). As I hosted the awards, I noticed with striking regularity how often a couple would take their prizes, look sheepishly at the microphone as they suddenly realised an acceptance speech was expected, and the woman would step forward (or the guy would step back – hard to tell in that light).
They were super diverse in terms of age too. Some recipients had to be helped up the steps to the stage due to their advanced years, whereas others had to hand a baby across to tablemates so they could stride to the stage. This is where diversity doesn’t need a Government-imposed programme to make people do it because they have to. This group of practical, salt-of-the-earth people know it is necessary to ensure the viability and survival of their industry. Succession, corporate memory and collective innovation are enabled and strengthened when the group has different points of view. Young ones starting out are all keen, scared and focused on surviving, not stuffing up and improving on what they’ve taken on. There seems to be a middle group who have gotten past the death-defying business stage and are consolidating and growing a mini network of parks. And those coming out the other end are thinking about exit strategies, legacies and supporting those coming through whilst maintaining standards. If they were chronologically all the same, there would be a dangerous lack of different perspectives which could dramatically impact their industry’s planning and results. Diversity is a strength in organisms and it is a strength in organisations. Lack of diversity is not just a weakness; it is a threat.
Oddly, they haven’t got a policy or a plan to create something called diversity. It’s just naturally developed and self-maintained over decades. They’re well ahead of the curve as I see it in my travels. In other events I work at and organisations I work in, I see individuals or teams and sometimes leadership deliberately and proactively trying to catalyse and nurture diversity programmes and so forth around gender, age, race, culture, even personality type. Some are doing well and others face entrenched opposition either institutionalised or via inertia, or even sometimes conscious and equally deliberate opposition to anything perceived as ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’. These terms almost carry negative baggage in the eyes of people who deride political correctness as the worst thing to happen to society in the past forty years.
I got into a brief twitter kerfuffle with an American of Indian ancestry who’d carved some infamy by applying as himself to a medical school and being rejected, then reapplying with exactly the same application except adjusted to make himself an African-American who got accepted. He tossed around terms like fairness and merit and I get that. His use of them was fairly selective and self-serving but I get his point. Merit and fairness are nice ideas and sometimes promoting diversity conflicts with those concepts.
An organisation / organism increases its chances of survival and success if it can adapt. Darwin wasn’t about survival of the merit or fairness. He was about survival of the most adaptable. The external society and economy is changing and a strategic, deliberate and proactive approach to diversity is how smart, future-thinking employers will ensure the survivial and success of their workplace.