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More Diversity

Entry 1412, on 2012-07-13 at 14:26:11 (Rating 4, News)

In a blog entry titled "Get Ye Hence!" from 2007-02-03 I celebrated the resignation of then Telecom CEO, Theresa Gattung. I can remember when she was in charge of the company that I particularly despised her and in the blog post expressed it like this: "She must be the most over-rated, incompetent, evil, despicable person I've come across for quite some time, and a great example that women are just as disgusting as men when they take on these positions of monopoly power. She's managed to create a company with a plummeting share price, huge customer dissatisfaction, out of date technology, and with no confidence from the government. And she was paid $3 million a year (10 times the prime minister's salary) for this?"

I have recalled this ancient rant because of some recent discussion over the under-representation of women in top management positions in New Zealand (and no doubt the same happens in most other countries). There have been various suggestions on how this imbalance could be improved including "name and shame" campaigns, some sort of control from the share registry, and government regulation.

I think we need far more diversity in management and I haven't hidden the distrust and general contempt I have for most current management, but would having more women help?

In general I don't like selection for positions of power (or any other position in fact) being made through a process requiring allocation of jobs based on gender, ethnicity, or any other fundamentally irrelevant criterion. Surely basing selection on suitability for the role should be the overriding criterion.

We already have some groups in society being allocated positions based on their ethnicity. Many councils, committees, and other groups have the requirement for representation by Maori (sorry to pick on them again after my last blog entry but this is a genuine issue) even if they haven't been elected or appointed through the same process other people are required to follow.

So if we are going to have policies which are blatantly racist why should we not also have similar ones which are sexist? It is rather insulting to women and Maori though: it's like saying they can't achieve anything through merit so they need some extra help. I wouldn't want to hold a senior position (not that I ever would because I'm too controversial) knowing that many people might think I got there unfairly.

There's also the observation that women in positions of power haven't had a great history here as far as I can see. Gattung is probably the most notorious example as far as pure evil is concerned, but she would be closely followed by the terrible female politicians we have had: Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley being the most obvious (and yes, I do think Helen Clark was a fairly good PM).

Please don't think that I am against women in power. That is definitely not the case. It's more that I'm against everyone in power because the vast majority of the men are as bad as the women. It's the power which is the problem, or maybe more likely it's the selection process which determines what type of person gets into power.

But after some further consideration I am wondering whether we do need a different selection process. In the discussion above I assumed that without some form of regulation that selection for senior jobs was based on merit. That word "merit" is very hard to define. Different people see it different ways and I would suggest that the type of merit used in most cases is more geared towards recognising people with similar beliefs to those doing the selecting, or to those who have been dishonest or self-serving in the application process, or to those who are more interested in saying what their boss wants to hear rather than what they really should to do their job best.

So maybe selecting people based on their ethnicity of gender - or any other arbitrary criteria - isn't such a bad idea. That might be one way to reduce the number of people we have in senior roles now who really aren't doing a great job because they are just a clone of all the rest. We might get some more diversity.

And in fact there is evidence showing that having more women on corporate boards does improve the corporation's outcomes. I must admit I am suspicious of this research - as I am of all social science research which has a potential element of political correctness - but I will accept it on its apparent validity without looking too deeply.

I do wonder if things could be even better though. I think that all major groups, both private and public, should have a composition which is diverse in far more ways than just ethnicity and gender. I think we should have a requirement for a certain number of young people, and people with an arts background, and a people with experience in science and technology, and people from other cultures.

We could get some real debate and some real chance of exploration of new and better ideas than we get from the "old boys' club" which is in control of most organisations today. So yes, maybe I do support a requirement for a certain number of women on corporate boards, whether they are the best suited or not. But that would be just the beginning...

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