Whether its the speaking lineup at a marketing conference, or the executive team at a company, you’ve seen instances were there has been calls for more diversity in that group. “We need more…” people based on their race or gender or some other criteria.
What is often missing from the diversity discussion is making sure that the people selected are qualified to perform the tasks. Too often, simple choosing someone based on a pre-determined criteria is more important than choosing the most qualified person.
This approach does a dis-service to everyone. It rewards people for meeting a certain criteria, and punishes talented people.
Picking the most talented people to perform the job should always be the first consideration. Talent is more important than hitting a desired ‘diversity’ goal every single time.
The goal shouldn’t be to pick a more diverse team, the goal should be to pick the BEST team. Now if you can pick the best team and also address diversity, then fine. And to be fair, in certain cases having a more diverse team can actually be a better team by default.
For instance, let’s say a conference has decided that it wanted an equal split of 5 male speakers and 5 female speakers. What happens if all of the male speakers are qualified to speak, but only 2 of the female speakers are? That means 30% of the speaker lineup will be subpar which means the quality of the conference will suffer. And it could just as easily be the opposite; maybe only 2 of the male speakers were qualified to speak at the event but the organizers pushed for 5 male speakers, so they signed 3 more who were unqualified.
This is why you push for talent before diversity. Now some will argue that having a more diverse team IS having the best team. In some scenarios this is absolutely true. But often, simply making a team more diverse (based on whatever criteria you think that means) doesn’t make it better.
If you can make your team more diverse without sacrificing talent, then go for it. But you should never place diversity above talent. Hire for talent first, diversity second.