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Stop focusing on diversity as a fairness issue

When it comes to diversity, those who ‘get it’ are frustrated with the slow progress. Those who don't fully appreciate the issue see it as a distraction, potentially seeing it as hindering performance and a tick the box compliance issue.


It's time to shift the conversation about diversity or we will remain stuck.


The current conversation tends to be about:


  • Equality and fairness - equal opportunity, equal pay, fair recruitment and promotions
  • Compliance - quotas, targets, policies
  • Systems and structures - flexible working policies, childcare, parental leave
  • The minority needing help - women's programs, minority support groups
  • What the mainstream should do - men should mentor and help women
  • A lot of focus on gender, less on other forms of diversity (in Australia)


While these conversations and actions help, it's not enough to make more progress. Those who are not interested are not going to get interested if we stay with the current “fairness” focus. Even where the aim is to achieve fairness, we need to refocus the conversation to engage the unconcerned mainstream to make meaningful progress.


Why don't we talk about attracting and leveraging diversity as a key leadership capability that offers competitive advantage in business and a critical capability for survival?


Organisations with leaders who attract and leverage diverse talent have a major competitive advantage – especially in the business environment where:


  • Collaboration within organisations and partnerships across the supply chain are critical to business success. Leaders need to be able to work effectively with different people.
  • Globalisation is the norm for many businesses so collaborating and partnering are even more complex. Leaders need to work well with differences, especially with geographic distance.
  • The most talented people are attracted to leaders who enable them to contribute their unique strengths and bring their whole selves. Leaders who value and leverage uniqueness in teams attract the best from a larger talent pool.
  • Innovation is no longer a ‘nice to have’ in a world where businesses and industries can be disrupted in a short space of time. Leaders need to leverage people who think differently, perhaps people who don’t ‘fit’ to innovate.


In the inter-connected business environment, leaders and organisations that lack the ability to leverage different people, both visible and not visible (ie. gender, ethnicity, age, physical abilities, sexual orientation, thinking and learning styles, personalities, opinions etc.) are disadvantaged. The ability to attract and leverage diversity is a critical business leadership capability. We cannot afford to under-utilise the diverse talents in business.


In reality, many of us have felt marginalised and under-utilised at times. (see How much and how often do you hold yourself back?) Imagine the engagement, innovation, performance and growth if fewer people felt like they need to hold back. The ability to attract and leverage diverse talent IS the leadership evolution we need in order to grow as businesses and a society.


Do you think we could shift the conversation? If so, what would it take to do so?


My white paper Rethinking Diversity for Competitive Advantage will be available soon on


Relevant articles:

Can ‘harmony’ be damaging your team and organisation?

Power Blindness

Watch for power dynamics beyond hierarchy and positional power

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