A Belief in Diversity or a Set Up to Fail?



Warning: This blog entry reveals a bit of cynicism.

I would like to believe that the boards of major corporations actually understand the value of a diverse workforce, including at the executive level. Varied experience and viewpoints can provide perspective and insights to generate exciting strategies or solve complex challenges.

If the leadership of General Motors and IBM truly valued diversity, would Mary Barra and Ginni Rometty be their first female CEOs? Really?

These women are bright, accomplished, highly skilled, and deserve to be CEOs.

But, look at the timing.

Barra became CEO as General Motors while dealing with the largest vehicle recall ever (29 million so far, according to FORTUNE magazine).  They declared bankruptcy and needed a government bailout not that long ago. And the intractable “GM culture” poses a significant challenge for any CEO.

Rometty is CEO of IBM as revenue has been declining (-5% to $99.8 Billion in 2013) and the media keeps asking “Can IBM Ever be COOL Again?”

What is the logic? When a fairly homogenous group of corporate leaders find themselves in a terrible situation, do they think Well, maybe it’s time to give a minority or a female executive a “chance.” Why not? If the executive fails to pull the corporation out of the mess, some bigoted people would have their biases confirmed.  After all, they weren’t expecting success anyway. And if/when the female (or minority) executive succeeds despite the huge odds against her, she probably won’t be compensated higher for that incredible accomplishment.  She could also become so tired after pulling a huge corporation into the future, she may just retire.

And then, who will the rescued corporation bring in as her successor?  Usually, the corporations revert back to homogeneity. Look at the composition of corporate boards!

This reminds me of observations my late husband had about governmental entities with which he worked. Leaders of states, counties or municipalities would repeatedly find themselves in “messes.’  Then they would scratch their heads and say, “You know what?! We need to bring in a community planner.” If they had actually understood and valued planning, wouldn’t the professional planner have been brought in long ago? And the “big mess” would have been prevented.

Be honest with yourself. Look at the composition of your executive team and your board. And look at the timing of when you “give a woman or a minority a chance.”  Are you really setting people up to fail or serve as scapegoats for problems that resulted from homogeneity? (Similar people with similar thinking using similar approaches)

About Aldonna Ambler:
Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna Ambler built and grew a suite of companies to help midsized B2B companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability® A Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Ambler has addressed over 2000 audiences and hosted a syndicated online talk show about growth strategies for 9 years. As a growth financing intermediary, Ambler raised over $1 Bil dollars for midsized companies. The winner of over 2 dozen prestigious national and statewide "entrepreneur of the year" awards, Ambler is available to speak about “profitable growth during any economy” and/or serve on the board of a growth-oriented privately-held company.

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