Gender diversity in leadership

We are constantly told we need more female leaders…but in reality, it is not true.

Before you choke on your vegemite toast, hear me out. The gender issues we face in large areas of the developed world are real. Women are deeply disadvantaged when it comes to a number of metrics: salaries, senior roles, promotions, bonuses and benefits. The problem we have with the diversity and inclusion in corporate Australia today is, we are focusing on the wrong thing. Well more correctly, the wrong anatomical region!

When a leader is asked to promote more women over men, they feel a pang of injustice. Justice is a deeply held human principle, critical to the survival of social groups. Telling a person to hire or promote someone because they are female, and not on merit, seems unfair. While social units happily follow long-held norms, they struggle to change to new practices quickly, especially if they feel unfair.

So, I was unsurprised when four older male leaders at a large company, complained that the quotas for women in leadership roles should be scrapped, reverting back to pure meritocracy. Quickly those around me took sides for a battle of the sexes, being pro-quotas or pro-meritocracy… and the slanging match kicked off. Sound familiar?

Here is the real problem! No one should be valued purely based on being given XX or XY chromosomes. What we desperately need in business is diversity of thought, not of genitals. Leaders today need to create teams of people with different opinions and thoughts, new ideas, unique traits and totally new ideas that can be added to what the team already has to make it more effective.

What we know is, because the inequalities of our society, women often have vastly different experiences and thought processes to men. Therefore, if you have a team of all men, and you are looking to hire someone new into the team, hiring a woman isn’t a sexist, unfair expression of reverse discrimination. It is simply a leader clearly identifying the need for more diverse thinking.

Humans are not like computer game characters, we don’t measure each quality and weigh them accurately to determine who is the best fit for the role. Often we hire people based on a deeply held, tribal instinct to be surrounded by people who look, feel and think like us. But this instinct is out of date. What we need in the modern world of business is diversity of thought. Interesting, diverse and multifaceted teams coming together in unique, collaborative approaches to solve complex problems in innovative ways.

The issue with the gender debate is that we focus too much on accepting and tolerating differences, trying to overlook the things that divide us. What we really need to do is start focusing on the incredible value and amazing possibilities that can come from blending a team of unique humans into a cohesive team. That is the secret to unlocking the power of gender diversity.

Daniel Murray, Business Strategist, Empathic Consulting

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