I hope you had a chance to tune in to the Party at the Palace concert celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee – that’s 70 years on the job! It was a beautiful, splashy show full of pageantry. The opening act was, of course, Queen. I loved the music, though with Adam Lambert leading it, there was no visible diversity present in the band composition.
Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to Indian origin parents, Freddie Mercury is fondly claimed by Indians and British, and is symbolic of how the racial mix of Britain has transformed. The Royal Family which the Queen refers to as the Firm has not quite made it to the modern family category, yet. Megan Markle’s marriage to Prince Harry was supposed to do that – to bring in a bit of diversity at the top – but that attempt at lateral integration is wobbly.
And it highlights one of the big challenges of embracing diversity. It is uncomfortable. Having been a senior lateral hire I know how it is to be referred to by others as “the sand that irritates the oyster to deliver the pearl”. The oyster needs to be willing to put up with it for the greater good and that’s not always the case.
If you are dealing with broad sweeping generalisations like “all-purpose shampoo” then there may be no business impact of your lack of diversity. But if you are looking at insightful connections, for example, that hair of different ethnicity requires different products then it would be useful to have a research and product development team that reflects your end user population. Research is indeed useful in understanding the market and empathy is a wonderful tool no matter what you do, but as the broad horizontal market opportunities get taken and you look for underserved niches you need people who may themselves be underserved to come up with these new product hypotheses.
While there have always been horizontal men’s grooming companies, Beardo targeted a niche of rich young men with beards, presumably an audience that the founders understood well. Nykaa’s founder is fond of cosmetics. Mama Earth came about based on the founders’ parenting needs. Many niche brands are based on similar personal experiences.
Larger organizations need to either replicate that level of diversity or acquire it as Marico did with Beardo.
All Diversity is not Equal
In a pet food company I might express a preference for hiring pawrents. I might offer many benefits for their fur-babies and possibly encourage them to bring them to work. It makes great business sense. But if my business delivers accounting software – I do not need to have a greater number of pet lovers in my workforce than the general population. I may choose to offer pet benefits, but only because it gives me an edge in the competitive recruitment market. So knowing that you are a pet parent in this context is virtually irrelevant and should not get you any special treatment.
The parameters of diversity that are critical for each organization vary, and the impact of not incorporating can be life threatening as in the case of Pharma products that were not tested adequately on different ethnicity or genders.
Diversity is not a nice to have
Without diversity in key functions you have a high probability of tripping. Like creating a soap dispenser that doesn’t work on darker skin. Or face recognition software that can’t recognise some people. Or algorithms that inadvertently discriminate. On the other hand, with the right kind of diversity, you can create products that address the needs of a larger population like say products for curly hair or dark skin or women or pawrents.
Bring Your Whole Self to Work
Imagine that you open a magic bottle and the genie offers you a choice – an average chef who cooks three proper meals every day or an amazing chef who has a repertoire of cuisines from around the world but has a number of unexplained and unpredictable absences every week. Me, I’d choose the first one. Now if the genie says you can choose TWO chefs I’d choose one of each type. And that’s the challenge businesses face – we need predictability in addition to unpredictable genius or innovation. And depending on my situation I would choose the kind of “whole self” I can afford.
Currently, there is a wave of relief that it’s ok to share everything on LinkedIn, in the mistaken notion that all variations and aspects of the human self are interesting to employers and colleagues. It’s like the early days of Facebook when I literally told people what I did that day or hour. But while a photo of my dog’s walk at mid-day may be cute for her fans, and a pet company might consider me as an ideal hire, Elon Musk might wonder how I would find time for this at my job on the shop floor. (BTW, I think he’s comparing apples and oranges – roles that require physical work such as the assembly line, and roles that require in-person meetings such as HR. One is impossible to do remotely while the other may just be different.).
Many of us have invested in LinkedIn over the years – I was amongst its first 60,000 members, but as the noise to signal ratio goes up recruitment is likely to move to more focused job portals like Indeed, while LinkedIn remains a method of engagement and discovery for professional growth and sales.
No, diversity does NOT mean sharing everything about yourself
Economist was ahead of me with a rant on the whole-self-to-work movement
so you can go ahead and read the article while I just give some old-fashioned advice on what’s ok to share on a public platform:
- Decide what are non-negotiable aspects of your identity
- See if there is a positive overlap between these themes and your role and organization. Share content on these aspects, explicitly calling out the connect.
- Check if there is a negative overlap between these themes and your role and organization. If yes, consider whether you can accept this dissonance, and not share on these topics. If you cannot you will need to rethink the fit between your identity and this employment.
- Identify other aspects of your personality and identity that you would like to share. Repeat step 2 and 3.
- Hurray! You’re now ready to share your work-relevant-self
For example, if you are a vegan you may think twice before joining a meat company. And vice versa. But if you decide to do so you need to think of your public messaging in that context. You may have a strong view that contradicts your organisation’s stated position. Is it worth it to you to share your point of view? Or what about a personal tragedy – sharing will get you sympathy and support and that is very valuable. On the other hand it would also become the thing people identify with you most – is that what you want in the long run?
The internet made us all publishers. 2022 is the year we’ve all been also made editors.
The Queen has always been a good communicator and avoided oversharing (unlike certain key members of her firm). One of the most delightful parts of the Party at the Palace was the video of the Queen with Paddington Bear. It was master storytelling and persona projection.
Have a great week! And have a think-in before you LinkedIn. You don’t want to be embarrassed by your youthful indiscretions at 95!