He was literally leaping up the stage stairs. “C’mon everyone, let’s get those energy levels back up!” Far too Tony Robins for this small event. “Everyone, stand up!”
Could I just ignore this? I reluctantly stood. I’d eaten too much buffet lunch.
Who even was this guy again? I looked in the program while being exalted to tell the stranger next to me something that we had in common. He was from a heavy manufacturing company that had won a small town best places to work award. The speaker that is. The woman next to me was a real estate agent. We both had kids, that was about it.
The speaker had slides full of inspirational quotes about teamwork, and told a compelling story about the productive company culture he had built.
He was up there to share his secret. He lowered his voice a notch. People were leaning in. The reveal:
Hire people who like each other
“Every single person we hire gets vetted by the whole of their future team, to make sure they fit in.”
I looked around. You could split the audience in two. Those for whom this was one of those ‘aha’ moments that reinforced beliefs that they’d not managed to put into words before, and those for whom this was hokey bunkum.
The woman next to me was beaming. “He’s right you know. It’s that simple.”
A woman in the row in front stood up. “Doesn’t that just create a mono-culture? People hiring people that are just like themselves, and so on? Where’s the diversity?”
“There’s no diversity,” the speaker replied with an intonation that weirdly made it sound like a question. “Diversity is completely wrong.” Oh, it was a question. A rhetorical one.
The room was awkwardly silent for a moment. “The key is that everyone who works for us has plenty in common. We build up from that common ground. People start great friendships at work, they end up coming to work to be with their friends. They go the extra mile for their mates and they never want to leave. Diversity is damaging.”
The woman who’d asked the question was still standing. Even from behind I could tell she was having a visceral reaction. Her body stretched out a little like she was about to speak above the rising rabble, then she paused, sat down again. The room devolved into fifty side conversations.
Most people who read this publication will know the proven value of diversity and inclusion, particularly how diversity of thought leads to better business decisions, improved customer empathy, and greater productivity. But here was this completely contrary viewpoint. And the main argument for it was outcome based. Even if the idea of this company’s blokish mono-culture was twisting my gut, the company was undeniably winning, and in business, strategies based on winning have a rich history of prevailing.
Many employee experience models focus on work environment. One of the biggest components of the work environment is the people you work with. And people like spending time with people who are similar to themselves. For many of us work is ‘most of our time’.
Could it actually be possible that for some businesses the EX benefits of a lack of diversity outweigh the business benefits of diversity?
At EX Journal our team have some very strong shared beliefs. We’re building a environment where everyone feels supported to learn, and to fit into that environment you need to be certain kind of person. We also have a properly diverse team and get the benefits from that, but that diversity doesn’t stretch as far as employing people who don’t believe in the power of diversity! In a way we’re a mono-culture of liberal thought.
Later, I caught up with the speaker in the parking lot. By the end of his session he must have felt quite beat up. I felt almost sorry for him. He’d come from out of town, emboldened with his best workplaces award, completely not expecting the divided reaction he got. “There’s good reason for people to feel passionate about this stuff.” I said.
“Sure, I get it, but look we’re a bunch of blokes in heavy manufacturing selling to other blokes in heavy manufacturing”. He rested his case.