Just at the point when you could be forgiven for thinking that diversity in the workplace was about to take its place alongside Mom and Apple Pie – something so unarguably good that it’s almost superfluous to say so – along comes the backlash.
Having taken bold steps towards creating diversity-oriented teams by introducing new gender and ethnicity inclusion policies, Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, has been faced with a seriously negative reaction from a number of white male employees who feel that being ‘white’ and being ‘male’ is now a serious disadvantage. Indeed, so aggrieved are some of them that unspecified threats have been made against certain members of the leadership team.
Whilst one might be tempted to dismiss the whole thing as absurd – apart from the threats, of course – there are important lessons here.
For some employees in a traditionally homogenous organisation, any deliberate attempt by the ‘high ups’ to diversify the workforce can seem like an exercise in pointless political correctness – an irrelevant gesture. Worse than that, as Intel discovered, it can leave people feeling that they’re no longer valued, that they’re not good enough, even that the bosses would like to see them go to make way for ‘different’ others.
The reality is that it’s a natural human instinct to feel comfortable in homogenous groups – we like being with people ‘like us’. And having the security of that environment ‘threatened’ by a diversity policy, or a diktat from on high as it may well seem, can cause real resentment. For people in middle management positions, diversity policies can also create extra work, in itself resented, and generate a sense that they have to appoint or promote someone whilst privately favouring another candidate. And all in some seemingly spurious attempt to ‘look good’.