I am over the “business case” conversation.


The business case for investing in diversity and inclusion is big and broad and robust. There is today a more compelling business case for diversity and inclusion efforts than there is for a great deal of what actually gets done inside of our organizations.

I am just tired of proving it.

I am really not interested in trying to convince people that diversity and inclusion are real strategic opportunities. Some of the reasons why paying attention to diversity and inclusion is valuable at work, or in any kind of social space, are simply too obvious and too fundamental. An elementary appreciation for human nature, social dynamics, collaboration and group process clearly illuminates this fact: When people interact, difference matters — in a noisy number of ways.

The number of generations in the workforce, our feelings and attitudes related to race, our expectations and norms around gender are all dynamic and evolving things. What does not change is that we are different from each other. We are always going to be different from each other, and difference is always going to be fundamental to the human experience, present in every interaction between human beings.

Can you survive (at least in the short term) as an organization without paying any real attention to diversity and inclusion? Sure you can. Look at most organizations in the world today. You can also survive (at least in the short term) without treating your employees in a decent way. You can also survive without leveraging technology. You can also survive without ethical leadership.

Corporations doing these things might not survive the long term, but organizations are not really long-term things. Their life spans are actually pretty short. There is no long term for the vast majority of organizations. Might have something to do with making decisions based on short-term priorities, but that is probably another post. Most organizations are in the process of dying, they just can’t see it because they generated a profit yesterday.

D & I work is not about short-term survival, it is about greatness.

If you do not believe that D & I are valid issues or worthy of some amount of sincere consideration in your organization, then carry on. I think that you should go act accordingly. I have no interest in trying to convince you otherwise. I am not interested in survival; I am interested in working with groups of people that want to make amazing things happen.

Some organizations think organizational culture is not a real thing. Peace out. Some organizations think Human Resources should be outsourced. Best wishes. Some organizations think collaboration is a fad. Happy travels. Some organizations think that D & I is just a feel-good thing. May the force be with you.

If you are in need of greater clarity of what the specific “business case” for training is, or recruiting or culture change, I get that. There is room for plenty of inquiry and disagreement about the specific approaches and their respective value. But when you are confused as to whether or not there is a business case for diversity and inclusion in general, then you are living in a very different world than I am. You and I are going to different places.

I am especially confused when the stink eye regarding D & I work comes from HR folks. If you work in or around Human Resources, you should have some understanding of human beings. You should realize that difference is a pretty powerful dynamic between human beings and groups of human beings — and that it can catalyze really good outcomes or really bad outcomes. I do not expect you to be the #1 D & I Super Fan, but when you work in Human Resources and cannot see D & I as a valid issue, well, then you are part of a different craft than I am.

I am fully aware that the frame through which D & I work is viewed has a lot to do with how the work has been delivered historically. Our organizations may have as much to unlearn about D & I as they have to learn about it. I realize that the reason D & I is still so poorly understood and commonly misunderstood has a lot to do with us as practitioners. I feel it every time I walk into a conference room. Fair enough. We are getting better; the body of work is moving forward.

But it is not all on us. Some of it is on HR leaders (and speakers and bloggers and writers) and business leaders who have not sought out new voices, information, examples and research regarding issues related to D & I. They are, in many cases, applying their critique of yesterday’s D & I work to the practices of today. They are refusing to join the evolving conversation.

But the conversation is moving forward — with or without them.

So, you can abstain. You can choose role your eyes and act as if the entire body of work consists of ethnic food festivals and conversations about compliance. You can choose oblivion about the opportunities for advantage related to diversity and inclusion. I’m not going to fight you.

I work with the willing. And I like our odds.

Be good to each other.

  1. broc.edwards

    “Most organizations are in the process of dying, they just can’t see it because they generated a profit yesterday.” Yes, yes, yes. Thank you! Best summary of business reality I’ve ever seen. How many companies are currently the equivalent of the middle age guy who’s life peaked in high school, stumbling along, blinded by past glories?

  2. Benjamin McCall

    here here!

  3. Jonathan Hyland

    Brilliant post, Joe. If there is one thing I like about it, it is definitely the tone. Forceful, unapologetic, and telling those who AREN’T onboard with this that they’re lacking severely.

    So much about D & I should be common sense these days – as you’ve rightfully pointed out – and yet even people in the HR field ignore it like a fly on the wall.

  4. Karin

    Thank-you. So very well said.

  5. Lori

    you had me at the headline. I’ve got to work on my headline writing skills!

    I feel the same way. Can’t tell if it’s major personal growth or just a ridiculous amount of sassiness that comes with hitting my 40s. So much energy to be found in working with people excited to learn, grow, change together. In creating more freedom together to be our whole, more authentic selves at work. In creating ever deepening relationships as we talk through what we value and believe and love and weave those things together.

    I work for communities now, not organizations. Thay’re making me sassier by the day. 😉

  6. Gareth Jones

    Hi Joe. You nailed it right there. As Broc points out, the sentence:

    “Most organizations are in the process of dying, they just can’t see it because they generated a profit yesterday.”

    sums up business approach to people in general, not just D&I. It is essentially what Jim Collins has been saying for a long time with his assertion that Good is the enemy of Great.

    Im with you – lets turn this into a majority with the ones who are on the bus – eventually we will outnumber the ones who are not 😉

    Are you going to be at HRE this year? Would be great to catch up.

  7. joe gerstandt » Inclusion is not the goal.

    […] got a few e-mails after my last post. Some of my peers feel that it is lazy and/or inappropriate and/or cowardly for me to say I am just […]

  8. I’m hosting, you’re posting… « Inside My Head…

    […] the status quo – we become complacent. Joe Gerstandt also touches on this in one of his recent posts: “Most organisations are in the process of dying, they just cant see it because they […]

  9. Joe Gerstandt

    Hey Gareth…you talking about HR Evolution? Yes I will be there, would love to catch up. Sorry for slow response.

  10. dorian baroni

    Finally! I love everything about your opinion piece – its spirit, its clarity, its sense of possibility. It is high time that leaders and HR professionals get clear on the overarching dynamics of something that simply should be part of any manager’s awareness and skillset i.e. the ability to manage actual human beings, with all their uniquenesses, gifts, weaknesses, etc rather than the myth of a human being as a ‘resource’ or ‘capital’ or worse.

    And I speak from experience and from having colluded first unwittingly and then wittingly with the old model when I was in my 20s and 30s: I worked early on within an industry where ‘eating one’s young’ was considered an unofficial but appreciated leadership style; I went for an MBA from a top business school where (like all other top business schools) more focus is spent on spreadsheet/financial dynamics than on the workforce/leadership dynamics that produce (or do not produce) the output that the spreadsheets/financials try to optimize; I visited HR for a significant phase of my career and always felt like the function was stuck in the 19th century and yet had so much potential to make a difference if it just could shed outdated mental models; and through it all, I have been intrigued (and dismayed) by how many organizations manage to survive despite doing everything possible to kill the unique spirit of their employees.

    When I hit my 40s, I woke up from the ‘be successful’, ‘get ahead’, ‘fit in’ self-imposed dream I was living. I first started to try to make a difference from the inside. Then, decided to go freelance. I now work as an external advisor/consultant/coach. I have learned to not fear the lack of income and it has helped me have the spine to turn down assignments where the client starts out not wanting to embrace the obvious. I just say no. I don’t want to have to convince anyone in charge of the most basic, the most humane, the most obvious. The obvious being for me being that organzations hold the potential, at their best and most producively profitable, to be unique works of social cooperation, empathy and creativity; places of connection with others, and a sense of accomplishment.

    Any other way of organizing, leading, or managing is a) unimaginative and boring, and more importantly b) as harsh an exploitation of human beings and the human spirit as we nowadays judge indentured servitude to have been in middle ages or during the industrial revolution pre-reform movements. Any other way of organizing, leading or managing will survive for a time (and perhaps longer than any of us might wish), but eventually it will the way of those other forms of short sighted exploitation of the labor and creativity of another. And I really don’t want to be part of condoning or supporting that!

  11. D & I work is not about short-term survival, it is about greatness.

    […] Joe Gerstandt, a 2012 NHRC keynote speaker, is tired of being asked to prove to organizations that D&I is good stuff. […]

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