Diversity. I expect that pretty soon the UK Corporate Governance Code will be exhorting public companies to redouble their efforts to achieve it.
There's nothing wrong in that. And if the Code isn't too many people's favourite bedside reading, perhaps it should be. But what - exactly - is Diversity? How can we achieve something when we don't really know what it is? We can't. OK, I know - some people will say "Diversity is achieving 50% of women on boards". Well, even though my first boss was a woman, her boss was a woman, and her boss was a woman - and in the Civil Service forty years ago nobody even commented upon that - we sometimes seem to have gone backwards in terms of attitudes. What happened to Women's Lib? Subsumed, like the 1967 Summer of Love, into some anaesthetised mainstream world? Of course we need more opportunities for women - and we need to provide more opportunities for all kinds of people worldwide.
Some will say that introducing ethnicity also equates to increased diversity. Well, prejudice because of someone's ethnicity is abhorrent. I really thought we had dealt with all that 50 years ago, back in the Sixties. Prejudice of all types, the toleration of bullying, the failure to show people respect - all those things need to be addressed. But does it really link directly with improving business performance, rather than with achieving social justice? To some extent.
But I suggest that real Diversity is actually something else. To my mind it has a lot to do with Ideas. With Concepts, Attitudes, Values, Approaches, Philosophies and Beliefs. Imagine this scenario, for a moment: Sir Henry Bloggins, the founder and Chairman of Bloggins Retail, has worked very hard to achieve a truly diverse board. Half of them are women, there is a good ethnic mix, one or two of the directors are openly gay, the directors vary in age from late-30s to mid-70s. It really is about as diverse as it can get. Sir Henry, aided by his executive search consultants, have done a great job. He is even in the running for a prestigious Diversity Award.
But there is a problem. Bloggins Retail is struggling. The board is baffled. What on earth is going on? Is it just chance, with Dame Fortune taking an unexpected shot at the company? Well, even though the directors all appear to be very different, in reality they are just different versions of Sir Henry. They think like him, they assess projects as he does, they view the future like him. The boardroom is very harmonious. It is all very pleasant. There appears to be exceptional diversity. But it simply isn't delivering.
A board is a team. But that does not mean that its members should be like the Borg, from "Star Trek". Everyone thinking the same - and then some competitor comes along with a radically different attitude toward the customers. And at the end of the day, that's what it's all about - customers. Meeting their current needs. Anticipating their potential needs. Pleasing them, or maybe even delighting them. Saying to them "Hey, we've got a great new product! Take a look. Give it a spin!"
The Borg Room