Diversity is one of the great battle cries of the corporate world in recent decades. Generally, this means taking more women and individuals from minority groups onto company boards, which, presumingly, will result in better decisions hence better companies.
Typically, the most vocal and best organized groups pushing this agenda are those headed by people with backgrounds, aspirations, and levels of educational attainment very similar to those of the powerful incumbents whose cake they wish to share. And those that get their voices heard tend to be of a certain age and maturity - whereas, particularly in this fast evolving world, the occasional insight from a younger generation may be no bad thing.
Thus most companies and organizations have, in practice, merely ended up paying lip service to the concept of diversity by appointing females and a deliberately ethnically diverse group of people, all of whom actually tend to have very similar qualifications and views of the world, and are of a similar generation.
It really does not matter where one was born, or what color one’s skin is, if one’s views and opinions have been melded by the same global middle-class values, which have been frequently overlaid and polished by a year or two of being indoctrinated in western corporate guff at international business schools.
Of course, in the real world, shareholders can choose whether this type of diversity is of any value and vote directors in and out of the companies which they own shares in. In any case, one should not belittle the companies that are trying to make efforts in this area, even if they often look merely cosmetic.
Diversity matters not just at the top. In fact, it ought to be the key at the entry point to an organization as it is the emerging middle managers who really run companies day to day, and who will be the next leaders.
In this context, it is encouraging that major companies in the West are tearing up their traditional hiring practices, ignoring degrees, and trying to identify candidates who are suited to the role and who have potential. Recent research seems to indicate that supposedly moderate performers, those who did not go to university and whose backgrounds are not revealed by the questions asked, are readily holding their own in professional firms when compared with the graduate intake.
And, after watching a couple of weeks our former civil servants trying to inspire new ideas and initiatives as they seek the Chief Executive position, it surely is time to look at the whole process of civil service recruitment and employment.
An elitist process established by the hierarchy to perpetuate its sense of innate superiority is simply not producing people who have the dash and drive required by our oddly structured executive-led government, in which the civil service establishment plays such a vital role.
The resistance will be enormous, but if we wish to develop a civil service that has real connections to the community, the exams required to be taken for civil service entrance should be reviewed and made accessible to not only the supposedly most gifted local graduates.
In addition, one of the biggest complaints we hear today from frustrated ministers is that senior civil servants know they may not last more than five years and no sooner have they established themselves in their posts than it is time to be out of government. This means that senior civil servants in various departments can often be rather obdurate, knowing that their agenda rather than that of the ministers is the one that has real durability.
So, why can’t we move people from other avenues of endeavor in and out of the civil service on secondment for a number of years, and vice versa? Or maybe it is time we started thinking the unthinkable and get some the best and brightest from the mainland to come down - that would rattle a few of the gilded cages.