The Five Diversity Myths Still Alive and Well in Corporate America

Martin Davidson holds post-graduate degrees from both Harvard and Stanford and is a professor and Chief Diversity Officer at the Darden School of Management at the University of Virginia. His latest work delves into why diversity initiatives are so faulty in the American workplace. Here he presents five of the most common diversity myths that still rule most American businesses:

Myth 1: Having diversity will increase performance and profits

Why it’s a myth: Having greater diversity in your team and in your organization only helps if you understand what to do with it. Bringing together people of different ethnicities, genders, or sexual orientations and saying “go to work” is a blueprint for failure and several studies bear this out. The key is being strategic about what kind of diversity you need to get the job done and going after it.

Myth 2: If you increase the number of women and people of color, you have increased your diversity

Why it’s a myth: Of course gender and ethnicity play a role in the way people see things. But the value of diversity doesn’t come from the appearance of a person. Rather, it comes in taking advantage of diverse perspectives to create business results. You can have a group that very much looks like the rainbow, but thinks pretty much the same -- and in that case, you haven’t increased your diversity at all.

Myth 3: Diversity efforts always benefit women and people of color

Why it’s a myth: White males are the generally the dominant group in the U.S. workplace and often believe they have the most to lose -- jobs, promotions, status -- when it comes to diversity. But women, people of color, and other people who are different also resist when diversity rhetoric and norms of behavior single them out and put them under a microscope. If diversity is only about counting heads, neither the organization nor “diverse” employees benefit in the long run.

Myth 4: A diverse workplace is ideally a harmonious and integrated workplace

Why it’s a myth: When diversity is working at its best, people are constantly bumping up against new ideas and perspectives that challenge long-held beliefs about how they see the world. I don’t know about you, but that activity usually unsettles me. A workplace in which differences are being leveraged is dynamic, energized, emotional and rarely boring. If you think that the ultimate vision for true diversity is constant harmony, think again.

Myth 5: Corporate leaders who want to increase race and gender diversity will make it happen

Why it’s a myth: Leaders constantly juggle the need to meet business goals with the need to meet diversity goals -- often causing them to choose between either increasing race and gender diversity, or focusing on corporate performance. Because diversity is not well-linked to performance, they have to choose that which will take precedent -- corporate performance. An added cost: these leaders -- who really want to do the right thing -- end up worried that they will be seen as biased because they aren’t making progress with diversity. The only solution to this is to make diversity efforts and corporate performance one in the same. Leveraging difference, not managing diversity, can do just that.

Thoughts, reactions, ideas?


Five Things You Didn't Know About the Aravind Eye Hospital

This eye hospital in South India manages to provide world-class eye care to millions despite the fact that the overwhelming number of their patients are poor and cannot pay. The story of Aravind can be read in the book Infinite Vision.

Here are five more things you probably didn't know about Aravind Eye Hospital:

1. They never close and they never slow down. Aravind keeps its surgical equipment in operation 24 hours a day, which reduces the cost-per-surgery significantly. Also, doctors focus only on performing surgeries and leave nurses to handle pre-op and post-op care, which increases doctor productivity. These actions allow the hospital to operate on the poor at no cost while still being profitable. From April 2009 to March 2010, Aravind treated over 2.5 million out-patients and performed over 300,000 surgeries for poor patients.

2. They have McDonalds to thank for their modus operandi.
Aravind's founder (Dr. V) was inspired by McDonald’s restaurants and wanted to model the eye hospital on them. Dr. V. was fascinated by the service efficiency, speed, and consistency of McDonald's operations and wanted to transfer that same process to the Aravind system as a way to cope with the increasing numbers of patients who began turning up at the hospital's door.

3. It’s still a family business. Today Aravind's top management team of nine executives are all Dr. V's family members, and all but two are doctors. Twenty-four other relatives work at lower levels in the hospital system's hierarchy.

4. They're not a charity and don’t ask their doctors to forego healthy salaries in order to serve the poor.
Aravind's administrators can afford to pay market rates and competitive salaries. They recruit doctors from their own training institute, which offers an internationally-recognized two-year postgraduate specialization in ophthalmology. While doctors at privately run hospitals face pressures to deliver revenues, Aravind encourages "honest medicine,” with a balance between clinical practice and community work.

5. They make their own lenses and instruments – which are of such high quality that they are imported to over 120 countries. Up until 1992, Aravind was importing lenses at almost $150 per unit. By adapting technology initially sourced from the U.S., Aravind was able to produce its own lenses within an affordable price range of $2 to $10 each. Today they manufacture 2 million lenses a year and export them to over 120 countries (and have 7% of the global market share for intraocular lenses by volume). Their product portfolio has expanded to include suture needles, microsurgical blades, lasers, and eye drops.

So, what are the lessons we in the United States could learn here?