I really want to pick up on something that I wrote a couple of weeks ago. It had a mixed reception, with many likes and offline comments of appreciation, but also a number of people who evidently disagreed with what I said on the subject of equality in the work place, and the lack of women and BAME personnel in senior leadership positions. Firstly, my job is to bring to light topics that will provoke discussion, with the aim of improving the industry. People are allowed to have different views, the problem is that currently they're not offered enough in fear of upsetting the wrong people. That's counterproductive and regardless of whether or not you agree with my subject matter, if it isn't discussed things will never change. I guess I nailed the discussion bit, but the danger is people thinking what I write is my exact view on the subjects discussed. In this instance I made myself an easy target, maybe by not clarifying my exact position about neither being a sexist nor a racist early enough, and what my intentions were. Funnily enough, I didn't get a single comment on the BAME side of the discussion, but got hammered on the equality side of things. I wonder what the reaction would've been if I was a white female and had written the exact same article?
If nothing else, it got me thinking about how I could expand on the article, and look at situations that may back up my theory. Which to clarify is that regardless of being blue, green or purple, man, woman or child, if you're the right individual for the job, the rest shouldn't matter. It should be based on aptitude to do the job to the best of your ability. If that makes you the best candidate for the role, great.
Several years ago it became illegal for prospective employers to advertise for staff using any wording that would exclude certain groups. Prior to that job adverts were looking for someone "hard working, 25-30 years of age" for instance. You can no longer do this as it is seen as discriminatory. You need to employ someone because they are the best person for the job, irrespective of age, sex, race, etc. If you have 10 applicants for this role, and 9 turn out to be middle-aged white men, is this wrong? Surely, this is because they were the best suited applicant. If the 10th applicant was a woman should you employ that person to even out inequalities in the business or board room?
Maybe the only way we can truly force through change will be through time. No one will argue that we need more diversity in the boardroom – that is a given, but should we do at the expense of the best candidate right now?
I have looked at a couple of situations, one where box ticking is never an issue, and another where political box ticking for the sake of political correctness has had a negative effect on performance.
In the first example let's first look at where politics hasn't had the opportunity to interfere with the way in which things are done. In professional sport, if you're the best at what you do, you get the job. If you're the quickest runner, you're in the team, if you're not, you're not. It's pretty simple and it's pretty cut throat, but everyone knows where they stand. Get better or you're not on the team sheet. It's exactly the same across both male and female sport. To get on the pitch, track, or whatever sporting surface your particular sport take part on, you have to be the best at what you do. Even team sports are based on position, and so it's not even about being one of the best XI or XV, you still have to be the best one in your position in your club, team, or country. It's animalistic, it's tough, but most importantly it's simple. There are no blurred lines. Can workplace environments and industry not be the same? If you're not the best, work harder, get better and become exactly that. If you do, there can be no questions over who is the best for the role. Your sex, colour and sexual orientation shouldn't matter one bit, and if they do, you're working in the wrong business. That's their issue, not yours.
The issue that does need sorting is the issue of equal pay, and I think in the medium term it will balance itself out. Wimbledon were the first to go about it, and other sports will follow, the difference with tennis is that the Women's game is as advanced as the mens, and therefore the pay can be equal as sponsors pay to sponsor a tournament, rather than a team or a competition. In football, cricket, golf etc it is more difficult as the women's games are not as embedded in the mind. Therefore lower sponsorship revenue is generated, and the clubs have lower capital with which to pay their female athletes. It will change, and it should change, but it will take time. The USA women's football team are going through a high profile court case about equal pay and are basing their argument on how many games they win. As much as that is a very solid argument, football is as much a business as a sport these days, and sponsors want eyeballs. Selling out 70,000 seat stadiums week in week out, with millions viewing globally on tv is much more attractive as a ROI proposition when convincing a client to part with big money. As the Women's games progress, I am sure, and hope that the salary gap can be reduced, but patience is required.
Whether people agree or not, the quota system in South Africa has undoubtedly had a negative effect on sport in the country, and caused one of the great South African sportsmen of modern times to retire from international sport. In the 2015 Cricket World Cup, long after England had departed, South Africa were in the semi finals and facing New Zealand for a place in the final. AB De Villiers, captain at the time was forced to pick Vernon Philander who was injured, but a person of colour, rather than Kyle Abbott, in order fill their desired "quota" for the game. This decision was made by administrators who were box ticking, and opposed by both the captain (ABD) and the coach. South Africa went on to lose the game, having not fielded their strongest side, and were ejected from the tournament. Now this is bad enough you'd think, but this also caused the start of a bigger problem for Cricket South Africa. Their biggest cricketing star was now disengaged with the decision makers, and this would ultimately see him take time out, before announcing his retirement much earlier than most would've expected. ABD still plays the game, making fortunes as one of the best players in the world throughout franchise tournaments around the world.
Apartheid is, and will always be a stain on South Africas history, as one of the worst regimes in the history of mankind, no question, but outside of that, imagine how amazing South African Sport could have, or would have been during the time since apartheid, had it not been for rules as to who has to play and who doesn't. That works both ways. I don't care whether it's 11 people of colour, or whether it's 11 white people taking to the field, it has to be about taking your best team in to battle with you each time you take to the field, and your field is your office if you're a business owner. It's the same principle.
Just to clarify again, I am NOT sexist, I am NOT racist, far from it on both counts. I am trying to raise the argument that for businesses to run in the most efficient and profitable manner, your age, skin colour, sex, or sexual orientation shouldn't matter. Be the best you can be and get the role you deserve. If you want someone else's job, then either improve enough to take it from them, or don't, but don't blame other people. It's easy to blame everyone else, and life isn't always fair, but by only ever saying it's wrong you're not helping. The more passionate you become about the problem, the more you take yourself away from healthy debate. To change things debate is needed. Be part of the solution, don't extend the problem by distancing yourself from the issue and becoming a radical in one camp or the other.
Work by Dr Michael Kirton was brought to my attention by an industry colleague a couple of weeks ago in response to my first post on the subject and the comments it generated. Dr Kirton suggests through his KAI (Kirton Adaption-Innovation) theory that differing opinions are in fact healthy, and can provide business or industry with fantastic solutions when opposite opinions are shared. The caveat is that both sides have to be willing to the other, and why they think like that, but also be willing to accept that parts of the alternative view may even hold some weight. If we can't do that, nothing will ever improve and we will be divided on subjects forever, with nothing moving forwards. If you want change, help create positive change by becoming a part of the answer and not an extension of the problem.