The same sort of thing is true of diversity. If we treat it like a problem, we will see it as an enormous one. For instance, we know that women, on the whole, are not paid the same as men and that African Americans are not proportionally represented in the higher up positions of large companies. No doubt these are large social issues, but does dealing with them as large societal problems help us run a profitable company? My bet is no.
While I’m not opposed to companies thinking about diversity in this light, its important to recognize that diversity in business is a fact of life. We know for instance, that the customers we have now are more diverse than the ones we had in the past. Likewise we know that the kinds of people we hire today will not be the same as past hires. Finally, we know that, due to the global scale on which today’s business operates, we are dealing with other companies that are made up of people who might be very different from us. With these facts in mind, diversity management has to move beyond treating diversity as strictly a social issue. We need to equip ourselves with the right tools in order to deal with diversity as a fact of life, in a way that allows us to get world class results.
I learned very early on in my career that business people face two kinds of issues: problems and facts of life. Problems are solvable. As business people, we attack them. We invent solutions and follow through by executing a plan of action. Facts of life, on the other hand, are not solvable in the same way. Rather, they are issues that we need to take into account when planning and implementing solutions for real, solvable problems.