Question: Promoting managerial diversity in a global organization

In a recent senior staff meeting to review performance our boss, the CIO of a Fortune 500, pushed us to do more to promote minorities in the organization, especially among first-time managers.

The topics included giving high-visibility projects to build a case for promotion, finding high-powered mentors, and the like, for employees of under-represented groups.

We had an awkward discussion on what it meant for morale and whether it would corrode team performance, to bring factors other than merit, to performance evaluation. Although, the staff spoke freely, there was missing perspective since all of us are from the "majority" group. So, we get the need!

I wanted to get a sense on how other world class organizations navigate such dilemmas.

4 Expert Insights

This is a fascinating inquiry. You ask "whether it would corrode team performance, to bring factors other than merit, to performance evaluation". Why would anyone be promoted into any position and especially one of management if they didn't merit that position based on their knowledge and skills?

I have definitely seen this addressed in an organization equivalent to yours. In fact, it was a purposeful attempt to always be looking out to identify the next round of leaders.  Initially candidates were identified for the attitudes, work-ethic and learned skills that they were currently demonstrating. Often, if not quite ready for the promotion into entry level management, they were assigned a mentor to work with them on identified skills ... always with the expectation that they were being groomed for their next position.

Although you didn't say this, it appears that someone being of a minority group is a reason that they haven't been considered.

I would suggest that to the extent the senior staff becomes blind to difference in areas of nationality, color or any other differentiating trait,  you will be likely and find it quite easy to become the more diverse management organization that your CIO desires to create.

The benefit from diversity tends to come through innovation. When there is input from people with different perspectives there is a greater chance of new ideas that can lead to valued innovations. Of course along with diverse perspectives there must also be constructive dialogue where those different ideas have a chance to be heard and "chewed on" rather than prematurely dismissed.

I am a big fan of Martin Luther King's notion of a color-blind society. Everybody is unique. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. It would seem to be in everyone's interest to identify their particular strengths and promote their individualized development in a way that builds on those strengths. There should be no need to move away from a meritocracy, but there may need to be some introspection on how merit is appraised.

To echo and put a finer point on Mike and Jon's comments - what I have seen consistently in organizations that are pioneers in dealing with diversity is this: their leadership teams look at their own biases and pre-conceived notions, and how these inhibit both the embrace of diversity and also the quality outcomes you want.

For example, your team members expressed concern regarding “corroding team performance” if you include “factors other than merit.”  There are so many assumptions embedded in this statement that the team does not question – and of course, seeing these assumptions as just that, and not as reality, is one of the key benefits of diversity.

So my primary suggestion is to make this about you as much as it is about them. Ask yourselves, “What are we not seeing, that leads us to conclude that diversity and performance are at odds?” “How might our performance actually be worse than it could be if we had more representation of diverse viewpoints?

The company can take a candid look at whether they have clearly defined competency models for each level of management.  Very often performance track record becomes the over-riding source of promotion decisions.  The competency model should address not only the functional knowledge for the particular management position but also the cognitive, interpersonal, leadership and behavioral attributes for success.  Once the competency models are agreed upon then a real assessment of individual and collective talent and development potential can be conducted, preferably including some objective data from tools such as management assessment processes.

Based on what was described it is highly likely that the "majority group" has historically "promoted in their own image" which speaks to a more complex organizational issue that needs to be addressed.