The Diversity Dilemma

May 17, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and my greatest fear at the moment is that I’m laying the paving stones myself. You see I’m currently restructuring my team at work.

This isn’t a small tweak, it’s a major overhaul. It’s “disruptive” change, not continuous improvement. But despite this, the intellectual challenge of trying to re-think what the team’s competitive advantages and assets are and how these could be better deployed, even with less people and less money was actually a lot of fun. Yes, it was stressful, daunting and hard work, but for me it always had the undercurrent of something new, exciting and rewarding.

But now I’m implementing, and it’s a little less fun.

I just appointed my executive team. Here again I’m looking at the challenge of translating the vision into reality through a somewhat intellectual prism.

Every leadership or management book you care to pick- up these days talks about the empirical and anecdotal evidence that exists to show that diversity in management leads to better results. Recent studies discussed in the April 2012 McKinsey Quarterly, Is there a pay-off from top-team diversity?, go on to say diversity is important not only from a gender, ethnicity or age perspective, but also in terms of skills and experiences.

So I’ve selected a very diverse executive team. And this is where I start worrying.

I can already clearly see the emotional cost the lead-up to the change is having on the team. It’s in their faces, the overhead corridor comments and the changes in work quality and patterns. In some instances people are clearly energised and in some case they are not, but whether its excitement, fatalism, anger, depression or fear, heightened emotional workplaces are costly.

I also know the emotional cost to me. But that’s a different story. What gets me through is the belief that once we get through the restructure, we will genuinely be a better team. We’ll be more valuable and relevant to our clients, more creative and more productive. I hope we will be a place people want to work because the pace is lively, the teams inclusive and dynamic, the skills we learn transferrable and the results we deliver will speak for themselves.

But I know the achievement of all that relies just as much on the effectiveness of my newly appointed executive team, as it does on the 80+ people we will have working with us.

In the Sydney Morning Herald recently, Ann-Maree Moodie wrote about ‘co-operative diversity’. She, like the McKinsey Quarterly is clearly a proponent for diversity. She notes that homogenous teams may be happy and at ease with each other, but seldom get the results of heterogeneous teams.

But unlike the McKinsey Quarterly, Ann-Maree also mentions some of the down-sides to diverse teams; constant challenging of one another, inability to agree, inability to move forward as a team. I can only assume this would lead to frustration, disrespect, fragmentation and indeed, disastrous results and rock bottom morale.

So now you can see the dilemma. If I want an exceptional creative, innovative and results- driven team to help achieve the new vision, I need diversity. But diversity could leave the team in ruins.

So with the best of intentions I have, for the first time in my life, very consciously picked a team which consists of very different people to me and to each other. I just hope I haven’t paved the road to hell.

Kylie is the Executive Director for Investment & Export Services for the New South Wales (NSW) Government. NSW is Australia’s largest State and its capital is Sydney, Australia. Her Department helps investors to set-up in NSW and helps local companies export to the world.

For more information on these services go to

To connect with Kylie, please visit her LinkedIn profile at;

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