Beyond the three P’s – Being diverse and inclusive because it is the right thing to do.

“That it is the right thing to do” hasn’t featured as a reason for supporting and creating inclusive and diverse workplaces in historical rhetoric and arguments. As Professor Cordelia Fine of the University of Melbourne detailed in IPAA Queensland’s 2018 Irene Longman Oration, most of the discussion supporting and advocating for diversity and inclusion has sat within the three ‘P’s’ – Profits, Performance and Productivity.

The historical, long held and perhaps comfortable perspectives in campaigns for equal opportunity draw on the benefits enjoyed by including women in the workplace. Has the time come to change the argument from one based on the three p’s, to one that simply concludes that having a diverse workplace that reflects the broader community is simply the ‘right thing to do’?

The three concerns highlighted behind the three p’s at the 2018 Irene Longman Oration are as below:

Concern 1: Profits and Productivity

At the macroeconomic level, there are projections that there would be large increases in GDP that countries could achieve if women participated in the labour force to the same degree as men.

In 2016, McKinsey Global Institute launched a report; The Power of Parity, has the executive summary starting with the theme that ‘Gender inequality is not only a pressing, moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. If women – who account for half the world’s population – do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer’.

The report then continues to report that 12 trillion dollars could be added to global growth if all countries match their best in region country in progress towards gender parity. And if women were to match men’s labour force participation, the additional annual GDP could be as much as 29 trillion dollars.
At the organisational level we have seen a proliferation of consultancy and academic reports that test for links between the representation of women or minorities at the top of an organisation, CEO, board or top management team and a variety of measures of financial performance and governance.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics study in 2014 found that based on 2006 Time Use Survey data (unfortunately they no longer collect this), found that this unpaid work, the work without which our society and economy would grind to a halt, was estimated to contribute an additional 42%. 59% of the value counted in total GDP. The majority of this work was done by women, but the McKinsey Global Institute thinks women are making the economy suffer because they aren’t yet achieving their full economic potential. The rhetoric around this performance and profits argument is discussed further in this article in concerns two and three.

Thirty years ago her classic book, Counting For Nothing; What Men Value and What Women are Worth. Former New Zealand National Party MP, Marilyn Waring, documented the way in which mainstream economics and the measures used to calculate gross domestic product failed to count, and therefore value, the enormous contributions that women make to the economy and society. This is a classic example of androcentrism in which males masculine activities and the male experience are regarded as more valuable and as a standard or norm from which females feminine activities and female experiences deviate and fall short.

“From the comfortable perspective of many decades of entitlement it may seem rather off that campaigners for equal opportunities for women should be obliged to draw on arguments of the benefits to society of women’s inclusion. The only reasonable response to the question ‘Why don’t you tell me how ladies votes will enhance society?’ Would surely be, ‘Why don’t you eat my bonnet!? Yet these pragmatic expediency arguments have a surprising parallel in a contemporary debate about gender equality in this shift from demands based on principles of equal opportunity and social justice, to petitions based on evidence of enhanced profits, productivity and performance.”, expressed Professor Fine.

Suffragette’s argued their inclusion make the country a better place. Some contemporary gender diversity advocates are compelled to argue that women’s inclusion will make organisations more innovative or shareholders richer. Such is the power of the status quo.

Concern 2: Harmful and inaccurate dialogue around diversity

The second concern highlighted in Professor Fine’s Oration was that the current state of dialogue around gender diversity and inclusion is that it encourages us to portray gender differences in harmful and inaccurate ways that are potentially unhelpful for other underrepresented groups, also known as the ‘gender essentialist view’.

As defined by Professor Fine, gender essentialism assumes that women are fundamentally, immutably and naturally different from men; or to present this idea in a different way, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

The view that the inclusion of women benefits an organisation because women bring uniquely female skills and perspectives that complement those of men. So as one company that provides gender diversity leadership training programs puts it, successful organisation lies, quote – “in learning how to recognise value and leverage the natural occurring characteristics that distinguish men and women”. Now this, men are from Mars women are from Venus view of the sexes is undermined by decades of behavioural science.

Professor Fine discussed that although there will be small average differences between a hundred men and a hundred women or a hundred female board directors and a hundred male ones; but that these differences don’t add up to create neat categories of men who think one way and women who think another.

As stated by Professor Fine, “We simply can’t confidently predict how an individual person, CEO or director or manager will think or lead, based on their sex”.

It is worth considering a recent survey of more than 36,000 employees from ten banking institutions in Australia, Canada and the U.K, led by Macquarie University Finance Professor Elizabeth Sheedy, it captured a full cross section of lines of business including institutional, wealth and risk audit and levels of seniority.

Employees were asked to respond to questions about attention to risks by agreeing or disagreeing with statements, such as, ‘In the last year I actively promoted risk management within my business unit’; and, ‘I often don’t have time to think about all the risk implications when making work decisions’. They were also asked about their attitudes to risk more generally.

Across all levels of seniority, there was so much overlap in the distribution of women and mens scores in general risk attitude, that about 46% of the women had a tolerance for risk that was higher than the average of the men in the survey. A tiny difference that disappeared altogether at the most senior levels. This gender gap was even smaller when it came to job related risk behaviours. Nor did the proportion of senior women in a business unit appear to make a difference to that unit’s risk culture. The ubiquitous image of the cautious female banker carefully handling capital as though it were a new born baby is more figment than fact these findings suggest.

So, for those who care about scientific accuracy, these kinds of ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ claims are bothersome. But even for those whose interests are more pragmatic there is a problem. Many studies show that people who think in a centralist inter-planetary way about gender, tend to hold attitudes, perceptions and preferences that actually reinforce the gender status quo.

Now if the primary reason that organisations should include women is that their unique feminine qualities can be leveraged for organisational gain, what about ethnic minorities? People with disabilities? Sexual minorities? Are they also to lay claim to different brains and unique ways of thinking to justify their value and inclusion? As Professor Fine noted, “I’m sure we would all feel rightly very uncomfortable about that idea”.

Concern 3: The demoralising business case for diversity and inclusion

The business case for diversity is demoralising. Professor Fine went on to elaborate this via two ways – first that the business case literally demoralises the problem of inequality, seeking to turn what is first and foremost an issue of fairness, justice and respect into one of productivity and profits. The second way was to elaborate that the business case demoralises the more traditional sense of the word ‘diversity’, namely, that it depletes courage and spirit.

The business case approach is the carrot to the equal opportunity stick, it speaks optimistically of the advantages to be gained, not reprovingly of law suits. The shift from a legal to managerial framework, one that rephrases legal and moral imperatives as strategic HR management, speaks to the skills at which the talented of the business world truly excel. And there’s no need to make reference to ugly, controversial and off-putting concepts like power relations, privilege, historical disadvantage discrimination or systemic inequalities. They could confidently instead draw on their well-equipped toolkits of managerial and leadership skills.

The diversity narrative also seemingly promises to dismantle the stubbornly persistent career mystique that presents continuous, undistracted, full time devotion to one’s career every day from young adulthood to retirement as the ideal from which all else falls short or at least must be explained.

Even in the 1950’s this model of the ideal worker was a poor fit for the many families, particularly poorer ones, who failed to neatly cleave into male bread winner and female homemaker. Today career mystique collides painfully with the realities of contemporary Australian families of which 60% of women with preschool children and 78% of those with children aged 6 – 14 are in the paid labour force.

The equality approach prohibits unjustifiably disadvantaging women who as a group spend nearly twice as much time a day on domestic activities and nearly three times as much on child care as men. But this approach while legally protecting women with care responsibilities who want to participate in the work force, does little to challenge the status quo.

The business case approach by contrast, forces the powerful point that the only folk who have a decent chance of making it to senior roles, are those who can and want to prioritise work before family every day and every year of their working adult life. Then these roles are being filled from a limited and likely pool. If we don’t want to throw away talent, then career breaks, periods in which family take priority and the ability to pick kids up from school or take time to care for a sick or dying parent, are options that need to be not just available but normal. They reflect needs that arise simply by virtue of being a person with a rich, varied and interdependent life.

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