Monday, January 24, 2011

LAPFF Conference 2010: Diversity by Laura Liswood

Still playing catch up on my posts from last year. I did enjoy Laura Liswood, a senior American consultant with Goldman Sachs, talk on “Diversity”.

Her basic argument is that there is a compelling business case for Diversity. If you add someone with the same background to a group you get some improvement but it you add someone with a different background you get more. Transgender Ben is better than Sister Barbara. Why was Stephen Hawkins able to make so many breakthroughs in physics? This is because most physicists write down their ideas on paper. Stephen does it all in his head. He imagines problems. No linear thinking.

Member of dominant group in our society are thought to be competent until proved to be incompetent. Member of non-dominant groups are assumed to be incompetent until proved otherwise. Compare what happens to women who tell their boss they are pregnant with a man who tells his boss that he has joined TA and could be sent to Afganistan.

Why is it that only 16% of all men are over 184cm in height but 57% of the male top 500 CEO's are taller? There is no research whatsoever that proves leadership ability is due to your skeletal structure. Conformation basis. If you believe women play classical music less well. If you think she may make more mistakes, is less strong and less forceful. When you think this and watch – you notice the mistakes. In blind auditions for orchestra’s behind screens, the number of women has gone up by 20%.

Why is it if you ask 11 year girls what they would feel if they were to become a boy tomorrow they would go ugh but be positive about climbing trees, riding bike and getting dirty... but if you ask a 11 year boy about becoming a girl tomorrow - it is the worst thing ever. Why is there this change from 0-11?

There are two powerful myths in all cultures. One is the heroic journey where they seek to find a Holy grail. They may get in trouble along the way but will come back victorious. This is the plot for 99% of Hollywood movies. The second myth is the rescue or rescue me myth. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The oldest version of the tale can be traced to 9th century China.

The most dangerous weapon you can use is words. Laura became a US reserve police officer after 9/11 (as you do). Words are verbal judo. As a Police officer late at night outside bars she can wind up situations or calm them down. In India if you give long answers to questions you tend to get higher grades. In the USA they say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Japan the nail that sticks out gets hit on the head. While in China the loudest duck gets shot. In the West girls are taught by their Grandma that if you can’t say anything nice - don’t say it. Men are more subtlety advantaged. They are subject to positive illusion. Tell a man that he should become a MP and he would answer, "yes, of course I should, why did it take you so long to realise"?

I asked Laura a question about her putting forward a powerful business case for diversity but surely it is essentially a moral and political point. She replied “whatever rocks your boat”.

As you can see from pictures of the conference LAPFF needs to do more about diversity but well done for putting on this keynote presentation.  I suspect that Goldman Sachs has quite a bit of work to do on this matter as well.
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