Is Talent Diversity a Business Strategy?

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Expert Perspective from Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board

Our editorial board mulled over a February 20, 2012 article written by Gail Johnson (Bombardier: Giving women wings)where she quotes  Elisabeth Bussé, (director of leadership development and talent management at the Dorval, Que.-based organization, a division of Montreal’s Bombardier Inc. BBD.B-T) as saying: “Increasing diversity is a business strategy: We want our employees to be representative of the community in which we do business.”

Johnson adds: “Women have made up two-thirds of the recent growth in the Canadian work force, climbing from 35 per cent in the 1970s to 50 per cent in 2005…”

For most women in the business world, these are facts and sentiments they have heard before, for decades. In the USA with only 15 of the fortune 500 companies led by women and the overall population tilted slightly in favor of females, these statistics are discouraging.  However, there may be a chance for women to take on a bigger piece of the management pie, although perhaps for all the wrong reasons.  Let’s look at a few.

1) Too often, women are paid less than men for the same job.  At least that is unfortunately true here in the US.  So companies who are focused on a business strategy of increasing profits and reducing costs, might be well served to hire lower paid women.

2) Boys and men are disengaging from the educational process.  Since the late 1970’s according to the Digest of Education Statistics for individuals ages 16 to 24 the Male Dropout Rate (all races) has exceeded the Female Dropout Rate (all races) leaving more boys unable to attend college due to a lack of a high school diploma. And if you look at higher education, the numbers are even more telling.  According to the US Census Bureau women ages 25 to 44 are outpacing men in garnering undergraduate degrees.  “Among young adults 25 to 29, 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men possessed a bachelor’s degree or more in 2009. This gap has grown considerably in the last decade: it was only 3 percentage points in 1999 (30 percent for women, 27 percent for men).”  And nearly six in 10 advanced degree holders (masters, doctoral or professional degrees) are women. (Data from the US Census Bureau Newsroom.) So at this rate, candidates for senior positions will increasingly be female. 

Is this good news for women? Perhaps it is. But the important thing for businesses is to understand where the future talent pool lies and design workplace policies and programs that attract the best and the brightest of the available candidates.  If the candidate pool is tilted toward women, then companies without substantial female presence in the workforce and especially at executive levels need to do some significant soul searching to figure out why women aren’t there already. 

One issue companies might face is their competency models. In our recent blog “In His Own Image: How Competency Models Compel Uniformity” we wrote that where competency models and the processes by which they are evaluated lack objectivity, are stagnant or simply reinforce the status quo, they can do a serious disservice to any company.  And this might be especially true where there are changes in the demographics of the talent pool. But recognizing and assessing important and unique talents and capabilities in potential leaders may be difficult for those whose personal and leadership styles provided the basis for existing competency models. 

Competitive advantage does not come from leaving unrecognized leadership talent on the table. Or from failing to design a workplace that appeals to the available candidates.

Contact Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board at edie.kingston@grahall.com

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