Our Quest for Diversity is Misguided

Last week, I attended a two-day seminar run by the National Association of Corporate Directors. Over the course of the many sessions, I heard about everything from cyber-risk management to talent development. Most of the sessions were interesting and informative. One of the discussions about board composition got me thinking about our misplaced need to categorize individuals into particular boxes.

Because many corporate boards use recruiters to identify candidates, very specific criteria usually guide the search for new directors. Boards now regularly search for individuals with specific functional expertise. They also want to assure gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. Plus, in today’s global marketplace, geographic experience matters…Oh, and also industry knowledge.


In this quest to assure diversity, have boards effectively eliminated some of the most promising candidates? What about those who have had multiple functional experiences across several industries? Or what about the value of fresh, unadulterated perspectives that outsiders may offer? The tyranny of box-thinking usually dismisses those candidates that don’t fit neatly into boxes.

And this box-thinking is everywhere! Consider the Myer-Briggs personality tests that try to place candidates into one of sixteen separate boxes, based on how individuals rank on four separate criteria (click HERE). It is used by more than 200 federal agencies (click HERE) and 89 of the Fortune 100 (click HERE). Only problem is that it generally doesn’t work. Up to 50% of people who take the test a second time get a different categorization (click HERE) and many psychologists dismiss the test as useless (click HERE). And yet the boxes continue to reign supreme – the Myers Briggs test generates tens of millions of dollars in fees each year.


So what? I believe our incessant search for diversity is misguided. We’re prioritizing the wrong type of diversity. Well-rounded groups have replaced well-rounded individuals. Expertise and specialization are revered, and those with many different experiences are seen as unfocused. We’ve become so focused on diversity of expertise within a group that we’ve forgotten about diversity of experience within the individual.  But breadth of vision often leads to innovative and more successful decision-making in the face of uncertainty (click HERE).

The depth-breadth pendulum has swung too far, and it’s time to revalue those with a broad set of experiences (click HERE) at least as much as we value those with deep expertise.