A diversity target number isn't all it might seem to be.
This a reply to Carol Roth’s piece for Entrepreneur. Please read that piece before this one. Make sure to form your own opinions. I invite you to carefully inspect your own thinking and respectfully criticise yourself, me and others.
“Accenture, one of the world’s best-known consulting firms for major enterprises, announced that they have set a target to have 50 percent of its workforce be comprised of women within the next eight years.”
When I first read Carol’s piece, I was quite annoyed. She seemed to be thinking that setting diversity goals meant hiring less capable people to essentially fill check boxes and make a companies numbers look better.
I tweeted about this, and Carol replied suggesting I hadn't quite grasped what she was saying.
I’m very keen to make sure I understand my thinking well before I criticise someone else’s, so I’ve gone ahead and read the article several times since then in order to ensure that I’ve understood well what Carol is trying to say.
It should be noted that I don’t intend to attack Carol personally, but this is a topic close to my heart which I love to foster respectful discussion around.
I’m going to dissect Carol’s piece a little.
Ms Roth starts off by saying that Accenture, the company who set the diversity target in question, have; “set a workforce target not based on experience, qualifications, potential or any work-related factors.”
I agree with this statement. They have indeed got a workforce target which is not based on experience or other work-related things. However, this does not mean that they’re throwing all those factors to the wind when hiring new employees.
A company can have more than one target to aim for. Accenture is saying that Diversity in their workforce is important enough to them that they want to make this target public. They want to have a number that other people can measure their achievements against.
I expect, as they’re a huge company, they’ve got numerous other targets when they’re hiring. And most certainly they’ll still be looking at a candidates experience, qualifications and potential when they’re sitting on the other side of the interview table.
Carol goes on to say that she finds Accenture’s diversity targeting “…offensive and, ultimately, bad for women…”.
Just a slight note here; Carol, you’re a very successful woman. I’m sure you put a lot of effort to get to where you are. But, this target is NOT for you.
This target is to show women that are not already experienced and well known that a company like Accenture is dedicated to providing a platform to allow prospective female employees to be the best that they can be.
A person’s opinion will be coloured (as will mine) by the status you already hold. One needs to be careful of that.
Getting into the meat of the article, Carol explains that she believes businesses should be “interviewing and hiring the best possible candidates they can find for their business”.
I’d invite readers to consider that for a business, hiring a woman (or any other person of minority) might be the best person for their business at that time. Maybe a business is so heavily dominated by men that they really need to get some diversity in there and are weighting a person’s background, personality and identity above their skill set and experience.
However, further on Ms Roth mentions that diversity for the sake of diversity is not a good thing. I.E hiring people just because you need to tick boxes is not a good strategy. (“Diversity for the sake of diversity, though, doesn’t help anything.”)
While considering my earlier point, I’d be inclined to agree with her.
Hiring minorities into an organisation where they will continue to be minorities is a bad idea. It’s a great way to get really fast churn of minority employees as they join, realise that the percentage of non-average employees is bad, and leave again.
If you’re going to hire people because of who they are, make sure that you’re making that choice for the right reasons and that those people are adequately supported by you as a business and by the other minorities within your employment base.
Basically, don’t hire one woman for your department of 50 because you need a woman in there, hire 10 women, 5 non-native people and some other minority people because you need some diversity in there.
That way, everyone can support each other, no one is alone and tokenism is, hopefully, avoided.
Continue working to raise the percentages of non-average employees, too.
We reach a rather interesting part of Carol’s article.
This section talks about how “some industries will have more women and some will have less.”.
I find it surprising that Ms Roth has not picked up on why “arbitrary representation targeting” does help this issue.
She understands that there is issues with some industries underrepresenting women (Engineering, Technology and Academia  just to name a few). But fails to realise why having targets helps that.
Having targets help to foster better internal practices and culture.
Such as: widening the pool in which managers circulate job openings to include places where you might find more women (like WomenIn Tech/Eng/Sci initiatives), having a diverse interviewing team or starting up working groups internally examining what the company can do better to increase their diversity numbers.
Having targets also really helps to increase perception of a company externally.
As I mentioned earlier, Accenture is keen to show that they’re actively working to increase their female work force and showing that they really support their female workforce once they are on board (Promoting it’s largest percentage of women to the managing director level in 2016 (30 percent)).
These kind of things really help to show women that this is a company, and industry, that they really want to be in, or at least is willing to consider them on the same level as men.
Large companies publishing their good diversity targets and initiatives hopefully shows women that the industry, and the working world, is keen to bring more women on board and is really ready to provide what those women need to succeed in whatever field.
It’s showing women that the door is much more open now, and is getting much closer to being just as wide open to them as it is to men.
Does representation targeting help women into unrepresented industries? Probably.
According to Ms Roth, some women want to leave the workforce to care for their household. (“Other women have a strong preference to leave the workforce to run a household and care for children.”)
Openly supporting women in the workplace can help to reduce the load on men to be the bread-winners of a family. It can help to allow women to feel that staying in work after having a child is a totally valid option, and men that they can leave work and care for the family. It helps to break stereotypes.
In conclusion, for God’s sake, have diversity targets! It helps to show that your business is ready to employ and support a female workforce. It shows potential employees that they’re not alone, that they’re not being tokenised, that it’s a real effort you’re putting in to get those diversity numbers up and run a great business.
It shows that you really care.