I recently read a Forbes article by Neil Malhotra discussing the topic of the business case for diversity and thought I’d give my own thoughts as well.
As many of my readers are pretty well versed with my own thoughts on the subject, I want to dive right into the meat of Malhotra’s argument against the current business case and explain why his thoughts are well considered.
Currently the core argument for diversity and inclusion is the idea that, a more inclusive environment leads to a more efficient and profitable business. Studies such as “Scott Page, a professor at the University of Michigan, described the returns from diversity as a “bonus”” and that more unique experiences lead to better results.
But what if, new studies come to us in the future “proving” the alternative?
As Malhotra puts if, “if one were to ever obtain data that showed that diversity was harming organizational performance, would that mean that the firm should actively try to homogenize the organization? If diversity programs primarily rest on a business case, then the answer would be yes.”
“Famed Harvard scholar Robert Putnam found that diverse communities in the United States score lowest on metrics of civic well-being. And arguments against the integration of the U.S. armed forces—on race, gender, and sexual orientation—often relied on arguments that diversity harmed organizational performance”
So what is the best business case for diversity? For Malhotra, a return to the past case for inclusion may be needed.
“Traditionally, arguments in favor of affirmative action rested on concerns about social justice and rectification for past inequalities in addition to ongoing discrimination. This framing has shifted to more consequentialist reasoning over the last few decades. But perhaps we should go back to these arguments. They are more honest and straightforward, and do not have many of the perverse implications of the utilitarian logic.”
An interesting thought, but one that I am not so sure holds up. If, as an example, studies prove that diversity is in fact a negative, then there may be issues outside of simply adding new people to a team that must be addressed. While I understand the argument Malhotra makes, I think the current business case is correct. If diversity is best for business (which it is shown to be), then it should be utilized, if it is not, then it shouldn’t. There will always be studies both for and against a business strategy such as this, but the key is to understand the studies being completed themselves.
With a strategy like this, implementation is crucial and understanding the correct ways to do so, lead to a positive outcome. “Social justice and rectification for past inequalities” are great sentiments but if it doesn’t move the needle for a corporation they will never take it seriously, period. Making the case for a more data driven argument is key in this instance to effectively grow diversity and inclusion programs.