A few years ago, when I wrote my first posts in the diversity theme, I said that I feared that the (negative) impact of this theme on the organization where I work would increase over time. This, indeed, has happened — not only where I work, but virtually everywhere in the Netherlands. I have had several rather demotivating conversations with colleagues to temper their ambitions in having a career, not because they weren’t doing strong work, but simply because they had the wrong gender and skin color to be easily eligible for promotion, at least in the present climate. Today I had a discussion in which I succinctly stated what I believe a diversity policy in an organization should be:
A fair diversity policy is about taking away obstacles rather than creating them.
Making it hard or impossible for men to get a promotion because the organization thinks or is forced to think that there should be a higher percentage of women at higher job levels, is creating an obstacle for a particular group of people to get a promotion. Contrariwise, offering support for women to arrange child care so that they have more time to focus on their career, is taking away an obstacle. I fully support the second, but argue vehemently against the first.
Putting arbitrary obstacles in someone’s path to frustrate their career possibilities (e.g., the much-maligned “quota”) is unethical and will only drive them away. It is a surefire way for an organization to lose their most-promising people who can easily find employment elsewhere, where their skills and ambitions are appreciated. In contrast, helping people to remove obstacles so that they can perform better and make their ambitions reality will bind them to an organization and will improve outcomes for the organization as a whole.
The ethical way forward seem clear.