Why Are We Still Talking About Diversity?
Mike Gozon   
November 2011

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The media discussions around Tim Cook, Apple chieftain, and Virginia Rometty, the newly-minted IBM chief, are somewhat telling. Mr. Cook is gay and, of course, Ms. Rometty is a woman. Does any of this really matter? Should it? In 2011?

Judging from the media’s interest, it just might. For example, numerous media outlets have referred to Mr. Cook as “the most powerful gay man in the world” or variations thereof. Of course, the mainstream business press focused on the fact that Ms. Rometty is a woman when her appointment was announced recently.

A look back at a quote by the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder and former chairman, is important and speaks volumes about talent acquisition. When asked about recruitment for a book entitled, In the Company of Giants: Candid Conversations with the Visionaries of the Digital World, Mr. Jobs told the interviewer:

“I think it's the most important job. Assume you're by yourself in a startup and you want a partner. You'd take a lot of time finding the partner, right? He would be half of your company. Why should you take any less time finding a third of your company or a fourth of your company or a fifth of your company? When you're in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not. Each is 10 percent of the company. So why wouldn't you take as much time as necessary to find all the A players? If three were not so great, why would you want a company where 30 percent of your people are not so great? A small company depends on great people much more than a big company does.”

Noteworthy is the fact the aforementioned book was published some 13 years ago. Was Mr. Jobs thinking about diversity? Probably not. We think he was clearly focused on finding the right people for Apple regardless of their backgrounds, gender, or sexuality, for that matter. Certainly his approach to finding “A players” has paid off as Apple today is one of the world’s most valuable technology companies and possesses one of the best talent pools in the industry.

Clearly, we believe that diversity will continue to be embraced by companies. A look at some statistics for the Harvard Business School’s MBA program seems to bear this out. For instance, of the total class of 2013 MBA enrollment of 907, 39% are women and 23% represent minorities. This compares to the MBA class of 1975 which consisted of 806 students of which 11% were women and 6% were minorities.

Whether we continue to talk about it or not, diversity is a good thing… Caroline Simard, Vice President of Research and Executive Programs at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, recently wrote: “The question of the business case for diversity comes up in many of my conversations with industry colleagues. The good news is, there is a slew of social science research that shows that diversity, along multiple dimensions, leads to better decision-making, better innovation outcomes, better team dynamics, and yes, greater market share and revenues.”