Diversity Will Not Save Your Business

by Evil HR Lady on June 12, 2018

Penguin Random House UK released a statement about their diversity goals. They state (bold in the original):

To better understand how our actions are making a difference in the long term we need to better understand the diversity of the authors we publish and the people we hire, and how this changes over time.

That’s why we want both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025. This means we want our new authors and colleagues to reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.

Sounds great, right? But, this is a business. Do readers care about the ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility, and disability of the authors and staff?

Would you buy a book simply because it was written by someone in the proper category? You might, but you wouldn’t buy a second by the same author if it wasn’t a good read. Diversity is a good thing because it helps you understand more people, and hopefully reach wider audiences. It’s not something that magically fixes your business.

Likewise, California is considering legislation that requires all corporate boards to have at least one woman.

To keep reading, click here: Diversity Will Not Save Your Business

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky Mcintyre June 12, 2018 at 1:10 pm

I agree. I don’t think race, gender, etc matter.

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Joe Schmier June 12, 2018 at 4:30 pm

I like to use the terms “diversity of thought and experience.”

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Anonymous June 12, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Well, if the goal is just to cobble a bunch of different genders and skin colors together so you can clap, cheer, and say, “Yay! We’re diverse!!” Then fine.

But as a consumer, I don’t care who makes my sandwich, or fixes my plumbing, or writes the article I”m reading. What I want is quality at a fair price with the appropriate level of customer service. As a worker, I don’t care about the ethnicity or religion of the person working next to me, as long as they have a great work ethic and are relatively easy to get along with.

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Maria Rose June 12, 2018 at 8:18 pm

Thank you, Anonymous I couldn’t have said it better myself. Diversity has nothing to do with outside looks but how the company serves the full community.

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grannybunny June 12, 2018 at 5:20 pm

Diversity may — or may not — save a business, since studies show a positive correlation between diversity and productivity. Obviously, an increase in productivity might make the difference between success and failure. There is a huge difference between quotas — requiring a specific demographic breakdown — and consciously seeking diversity. All of us have unconscious biases. One example might be — quoting from the article — “[w]omen…prefer flexibility over money and status.” That may be true for some — or even the majority — of women. But, it’s a mistake to base employment decisions on such a stereotype, instead of basing them on the actual facts regarding the female employee at issue. One simple technique for testing implicit biases is to substitute another group into the proposition to see if it holds true. Using the above example, that would be: “men prefer flexibility over money and status.” That juxtaposition immediately demonstrates the sheer arbitrariness and stereotypicality of the statement.

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HR Film Buff June 12, 2018 at 5:29 pm

I think the situation with Penguin is a bit more nuanced. I do, in fact, care about the ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion and disability of the authors I read. I’m not saying I’ll only read books by any one possible type of author, but I do try very hard to read books written by people who do not have the same experiences or background as me. Yes, the authors need to be good writers, or I won’t read another, but the stories written by Jesymn Ward and Louise Erdrich are offering something very different than Jonathan Franzen. Gender and ethnicity play into these authors work, and reading it offers me an opportunity for better understanding where they are coming from and broadening my own perspective and world view. And let’s not pretend that skin color does not matter, because I imagine individuals who live with the racism thrown at them for their skin color would disagree, especially in the US. Also, there are authors who have been writing for decades who come from more diverse backgrounds but lack of publisher interest is a real thing. Or do we forget that the Bronte sisters needed to write under male names? Or that Jo Rowling published under JK because it was thought that a female name on a book intended for a male audience would keep it from selling? No, diversity won’t save your company, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the diversity of the authors I read. (I do think the CA board member situation is largely ludicrous and a different situation all together.)

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Goober June 12, 2018 at 5:53 pm

Publishing is a funny business, that depends a great deal on the fandom of the market. And fans are . . . weird.

There certainly are a lot of people who will buy books because they were written by an author of the right gender, skin color, sexual orientation, etc. And maybe they won’t buy another from the same author if the author isn’t any good, but publishers run the same risk with *all* authors, even the more established ones, and for every available slot in their publishing schedule, there’s a thousand eager wannabes they can try next. Honestly, I can’t imagine it will have much effect overall on the quality of work being published, because they’ve always had to pick and choose based on arbitrary criteria that has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

And things that we do because we enjoy them are also a funny thing. Wine enthusiasts put in a functional MRI machine and given wine show more brain activity in the pleasure centers of the brain when they are told a glass of wine is more expensive, even compared to a glass from the same bottle they are told is cheap. I suspect that people who buy a book because the author is “diverse” may very well enjoy the book more, whether it be good writing or bad (and the definition of that is intensely personal, too), than they would if they read the exact same book thinking it was written by an old, rich white guy.

So there are legitimate marketing issues here. And book publishing is a very challenging industry these days. This isn’t going to affect their internal operations much, perhaps, but as a marketing move, it may well turn out to be a good idea. (Or not.)

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grannybunny June 13, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate comment. Having a broader range of author’s viewpoints available not only benefits the reader — as you pointed out — but also widens the potential market for the publisher. So, yes, diversity certainly could — conceivably — save a business.

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Anon today June 13, 2018 at 12:33 am

Well, let’s be clear. The reason there are less women in the C levels and the Board rooms isn’t only because of quantifiable differences in their relationship with work and careers, though those may exist (and not always through affirmative choice but due to the practicality of family needs). Executives and Board members get sourced and hired through relationship based hiring processes and less of a certain kind of people doing the referring mean less of those same kind of people getting referred. Middle aged white guys tend to refer middle age white guys so the ecosystem is self sustaining. And, there are studies showing that companies with more diversity perform better, so maybe it will save a business or two to manage to more of it.

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