Glass ceiling incentives

One of my friends pointed out an interesting coincidence of articles in the Telegraph.  One was about the glass ceiling.  The other was about the need for more women in the boardroom

On a positive note, Lord Davis who is leading on this has made the link between the two  and realised that:

  1. greater diversity at the top tends to break up Groupthink (as in my suggestion in “resources” for reading “The wisdom of crowds“).
  2. putting in a “quota” of women was pointless.

It’s great news, in part because it actually accepts diversity as a positive move, rather than simply a way to avoid being accused of prejudice.  The fact that more diverse opinions make for better decisions will have a lot of airspace on my new corporate site (when it finally gets re-vamped!)  But the general point is that “cognitive diversity” is good for decision making. 

It is also great news because a senior official has actually looked at the research and realised the facts, and that, as the Telegraph article points out – “There is no point in promoting women who are “just like men” for the sake of it”, and instead of using quotas inappropriately, is using them as a threat to force companies to think about the issue.

Maybe Lord Davis (and the Telegraph writer), having realised that “man clones” are not the answer will go a bit further and look at the nature of motivation and symbols.  If they do, they may realise that women tend to have different symbols and motivations to men – not in every case, but most of the time,  in the same way that not all men are bigger than all women, but mostly they are. 

If they follow up on that, they’ll realise that the idea that women are generally going to be motivated by the same things as men is nonsense. 

Journalists ought to get this point easily.  Men’s magazines are very different in style and content to women’s magazines, because men and women are generally interested in, and motivated by, different things.  You get some women who are more interested in men’s magazines that are full of gadgets, status symbols etc. than they are in women’s magazines.  And you get some men (I’m one) who are more interested in articles about people than things and who therefore prefer women’s magazines.  But in the main, women tend to like certain stuff, and men tend to like slightly different stuff – and the magazine writers know this and provide the appropriate material for their audience.

So hopefully, Lord Davis will keep up the good work by realising that the compensation systems, rewards, motivation etc. for corporations need to cater to women as well as men.  There’s not much point saying – “you’ve got to get more women onto the Board”, and then keeping the same model of motivation (you can be owned heart and soul by the corporation, you get huge status rewards etc.) that appeal to most men (but not me, because I’m in the minority) but not to most women (except a small minority – like, say, Baroness Thatcher). 

If you keep that system, you get a few women who basically have the same sort of motivation and world view as most men (man clones), and so you don’t actually get any diversity.   If you get women onto the board who think differently to the men (and thus provide cognitive diversity), they will tend to leave because they just don’t get rewards that they feel are worthwhile.  There’s plenty of evidence for that, among other places in the book, The sexual paradox and in my brief blurb about it. 

So to get diversity, you can’t just stick different people on the board (which they’ve realised), or simply encourage them to go on the board without changing the system (which they don’t seem to have worked out yet). 

If you want a parallel example – imagine that you want to get more people from different cultures in the Cabinet.  You don’t want simply to have a quota, or employ somebody who is an Eton man (like most of them now) and who has exactly the same background, culture, world view etc. (except for a  different skin colour), because that doesn’t give you any diversity.  You want some people who do actually see the world differently, perhaps somebody from an African or Asian culture, or who comes from an Islamic or Buddhist background, because they will bring a different view and true diversity.  But then there won’t be much point in giving them the incentive that good performance will get them a case of port and a magnum of champagne (which works for the Eton set), if their culture forbids them to drink alcohol!

Diversity is useful, but it only gets sustained with the right motivation.  People are complicated, their motivation is an individual thing and if you want diversity, you have to have diversity of incentive as well. 

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