In the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic, I ran across Richard Florida’s article, “Where the Skills Are” and found myself rethinking the idea of a diverse workforce. The idea has two paradoxical forces playing on it:
- Diversity improves a company’s adaptability, creativity and innovation
- Employers tend to hire employees who are like them
For the moment, let’s imagine that employers can hire a diverse workforce. The next challenge is managing it. It’s difficult because personality conflicts are side-effects of diversity. Since everyone’s a people person until people are the problem, managers are more apt to “get rid of the problem” rather than incorporate it. Consequently, employers will not only tend to hire those “who fit in” but also dispose of those “who don’t.” This moves them ever faster toward a homogenous workforce lacking adaptability and innovation.
Even though Richard’s article focused on talented individuals adept at connecting with diverse people, there are applications from a managerial perspective. It will take a very talented person to manage diversity. That’s because personality conflicts manifest themselves in many ways as differences in approaches, organization, ideas, behaviors and others. A manager will need to be able to see through this, account for his own biases, creatively solve it, and have the discipline to pursue the solution. We do not solve personality conflicts overnight.
Moreover, the need for such managerial talent is only going to increase as technology continues to take over the more routine and predictable tasks of various jobs and as the marketplace becomes more dynamic. The need for diversity not only in demographics but also in personality is only going to increase too.