Companies fall into the reputation trap when they have not been successful utilizing diversity and managing it for business results. When this happens, their fallback position is, “We should at least be known for being diverse.” Even though these companies aren’t really leveraging diversity for better results, they want the glory of being seen as diverse companies.
Reputation, in a nutshell, is the biggest distraction from doing serious diversity management work.
There are a lot of magazines that compile lists of the top workplaces for diversity. Fortune Magazine used to have an annual list of the 100 best companies for minorities. Working Mother runs a list of the best companies for women’s advancement. There are tons more out there doing the same sort of thing.
I advocate for companies to avoid these lists. I’m a critic of them, because these lists are diversions. The criteria that magazines use to make these lists never account for results – the real purpose of diversity management.
For example, look at DiversityInc. Every year, they release a list of what they call the “Top 50 Companies for Diversity.” But the metrics for the list are problematic. If you look at the criteria, they only care about the first three of the Five R’s:
DiversityInc is only concerned with small part of the whole picture of diversity management. They leave out the most important aspect: results. They don’t measure how well the company is doing because of successful diversity management. They don’t ask, “Have profit margins increased? Has the business grown?”
I’ve been chastened by one cold, hard fact: I was at a conference about seven years ago. In a small group setting, I was talking about how these lists are major distractions from the real work of diversity management. A friend of mine, who is a chief diversity officer for a major utility company, said, “My CEO loves seeing his picture in magazines, and it’s part of my job to get him there.”
The fact is: human nature prevails. No matter how distracting the lists are, people are going to want to be on them. No one wants to be thought of as unfriendly to diversity. Everyone wants to make these lists, to be seen as a good place to work. It’s very seldom that there’s an actual correlation between the lists and real diversity work.
I have a challenge for the companies who care about these lists: if you get on the list, make sure you deserve to be there. Make sure you are translating your diverse mix of people into better business results. Then you’ll have something to pound your chest about. Until then, all you have is a flimsy paper acknowledgement.
I recognize why these lists exist. The people who make them have their own agendas. The magazines want to sell ads, and they sell ads to the people on these lists. Sometimes, to get on the lists, there’s an entrance fee. So there is an obvious revenue motivation. As conference sponsors, their only agenda is to get butts in seats. They want to attract people, regardless of whether or not what they are doing is relevant to diversity management.
Their agendas are not the same as mine. Mine is to advance the field of diversity management. If we’re depending on conference sponsors and magazine leaders to advance the field, then we’re misguided. We practitioners have to be conscious of the fact that they have their agendas, we have ours, and our agendas are not the same.