Should Promotions Go to Women and People of Color First

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


Question:

You’ve expressed your doubts that reverse discrimination exists, White Guy, but in this medium-sized factory, hourly workers aspiring to leadership positions are trained to parrot the following sentence, when asked: “All else being equal, we should always promote the woman or minority first.” Your comments, please.

Answer:

I will not comment on your allegations of what people are “trained to parrot” at your workplace as I have no firsthand knowledge of that.

However, I will point out for most U.S. companies, decisions are regularly based on race and gender; if you aren’t a white man, you aren’t considered. This accounts for the representation in most corporate boards and executive committees. It also accounts for billions of dollars spent on lawyers and settlements. In the past 10 years, there has been more than $1 billion handed down on race and gender court-case settlements, billions more spent on outside council, further billions on out-of-court settlements, and hundreds of additional billions lost in market cap due to headline fatigue.

Aside from exposure to liabilities, there are many business-case reasons to have a succession plan that considers diversity. One simple business reason is based on recruitment and retention. Data obtained in the DiversityInc Top 50 competition demonstrates a link between representation, recruitment and retention. If you don’t have “them,” it’s difficult to recruit “them” and almost impossible to retain “them.”

Considering the changing makeup of the labor force, if selecting a woman and/or person of color will help you recruit and retain, the woman and/or person of color is more valuable than yet another white guy, as they will help you recruit and retain the work force that exists. This is especially true if your workplace is like the overwhelming majority of workplaces and looks very white and very male at the top.

There are other reasons to select for diversity, including the diversity of approaches that different people will bring to the table and the connection to the extremely diverse marketplace that exists today. Here’s a simple analogy: Let’s say you’re planning to renovate your bathroom but have nothing but hammers in your toolbox. It isn’t going to help you renovate the bathroom if you buy another hammer, even if they’re on sale..

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