“Southeast Asian and Chinese companies with more women on their boards delivered better financial results then those dominated by men, according to a study by International Finance Corp.”                Bloomberg News

I live a fascinating profession. Yes, I said that correctly. I had a remarkable observation last week while speaking as the closing Keynote for the Municipal Information Systems Association Of British Columbia (Canada) at beautiful Whistler, BC. For clarity, these folks are self described with pride…”Tech Geeks”! Specifically, they are the managers of IT Systems for the municipal governments all across the Province. As usual, I was slightly intrigued about why they chose me, especially since I am not a tech geek. Although I’ve been called a geek with other motives by not so nice folks. These are very smart folks so they are less about “platitudes” and more about “numbers”. They’re also, very generally speaking, not epic people persons! So I was on my “toes” to make sure I delivered a message that would not only honour their presence (one of my focal points in every talk) but not “insult their intelligence, which frankly, the Politically Correct tends to do for some folks.

I drew a personal parallel while preparing for this gig. I am, of course, a pretty talented and accomplished musician. I credit my joining band while playing the trombone in the early 1970’s for eliminating the majority of my bullies. My strong belief is a quote I have been using for thirty years. “Musicians don’t care what you look like. Can you play?” I made it my mission in life as an adolescent to answer…”Yes I Can”!

In my mind, an IT job is the same. Your gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or language spoken have absolutely nothing to do with whether you can do the job. In fact, IT is sneaky. It hides in the shadows of their computer rooms providing living proof that Diversity Matters, but I believe even the words “Diversity” or “Inclusion” has become a “red herring” we attribute to the “Politically Correct”.

On a personal note, I’m human. So is every “identifiable candidate” in the world of “workplace diversity”. I state something so blatantly obvious to ask a question…”Why is diversity loved by many but hated by too many?”

I could write a book about this subject alone, and maybe I will someday but for today, I am making this blog about something I read last June and tucked away in my file for “blog stuff” and then got distracted by our cottage in Saskatchewan and writing my next book about “Labels”.

A study by the International Finance Corp. showed that Boards where more than 30% of members are women reported and average return on assets of 3.8% compared with 2.4% for those without female representatives. The return on equity for companies with more than 30% female board representation was 6.2% beating the 4.2% rate seen at those will all male boards. More than 1,000 companies in China, Indonesia,   Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were surveyed for this study.

When I speak to companies and organizations at their events, it’s very clear to me that I am like a “Poster Child” for this subject. Not the female part, of course, but the Diversity piece…absolutely. The chair of the MISA BC event, Christina Crabtree said this following my program:

“You nailed it! What I love is how you weave your story to make your points. This may sound weird but it was one of the most intelligent talks I’ve ever heard in 30 years on the job!”
Christina Crabtree  MISA BC Conference Chair

 By the way, when I had my first client call with Christina and her team she was surprisingly candid in explaining I was chosen for the event because as logical it would be to have a speaker with an Olympics or Everest background appear at the site of the Alpine events for the 2010 Winter Olympics, they wanted someone “relatable”. It appears according to the post-event reaction of the Chair, they made a great choice. Is this nothing more than “self promotion” on my part. I suppose, but what’s wrong with that? I’m a Hall Of Fame speaker who is more than just a poster child!

My motivation in my work has has gone through many phases in almost forty years on stage. It began in 1981 to address negative stereotypes and lack of awareness of the disabled. Frankly, I struggled with trying to understand the sheer magnitude of ignorance. In 2019, we have definitely learned volumes and in many ways, I think we already know this next part too. The world I grew up and live in has indeed been dominated by old white dudes with a multitude of serious issues towards women, people of colour and sexual orientation. The guides to enlightenment can rightfully be accused of being angry, bitter extremists as they often get the headlines. I am not one of those. But to continue to believe that this subject is an evil plot by the Human Resources department, think again. Like it or not, doing business is about making a profit and the truly successful organizations understand they must do what it takes to make the bottom line look fine.

Now I need to get real honest and personal. In 1986 when I was 26 years old, I ran for a seat in the Saskatchewan Legislature. I had never, and I mean…never dreamed of doing it. But I had become a public figure with over 600 talks under my belt by then all across the province and even across Canada. I was different. And by that, I don’t mean my body was, it was my approach. In the 1980’s, I was encouraging people to embrace the diverse nature of our world. I even had a segment that talked about a bizarre science called cloning and how ridiculous it would be if we were all identical. What’s most profound is even back then, I was adamant; “We Are All Normal…Our Own Normal!” So am I going all “Woo-Woo”?

After I lost the election by 600 ballots, I concluded the whole experience taught me so much that I’ve never had a desire to do it again and frankly, gave me such a bitter taste about “politics”, I understand the public cynicism that continues to grow!  Right or wrong, when I lost, I was offered a job by the government who I’d run for and they’d won a big majority, even though I didn’t. I even created a department, my first time. It would eventually be called “The Saskatchewan Government Disability Directorate” and my role as manager was to oversee and suggest new policies to address the ever growing issue of “Employment Equity”. My department was also a lightning rod for every disgruntled disabled person in the province. And if  that wasn’t enough, The Saskatchewan Government Employees Union was bred from left wing politics in the province that invented universal health care! “Universal” makes it sound like a panacea. In the United States, they used to call it Communist! Okay, back to my point.

The Union was considered the most powerful government union in Canada and while I sincerely respect their point of view as I grew up in a “blue collar home”, my mandate was to significantly increase the percentage of people with a disability working for this same government while the union leadership were completely against my and the administration’s plans. I even remember hearing the word conspiracy several times in meetings with leaders from both sides. And if that wasn’t enough, the clear majority of frustrated folks with disabilities believed the Directorate’s mandate was to hire every handicapped person in the province. It was a bizarre eighteen months that ended with my resignation. It nagged at me for a very long time because “giving up” isn’t really in my vocabulary. But what annoyed me most was a somewhat understandable attitude of …”You Owe Me!”

Here’s my point. “Diversity” is a very tricky word. It’s almost like “Disabled”. How are these words actually defined and by whom? Before I take a stab at that, I listened to a podcast with the head of the Ted Talks phenomenon, Chris Anderson interviewing the Vice Chair of the Board Of Starbucks, Mellody Hobson. It’s a great podcast but what caught my attention was very clear and to the point. To paraphrase, Hobson was commenting on the stereotype of all Starbucks staff being white!…

“Obviously it’s not completely true but what is accurate is 95% of job applicants for Starbucks jobs in America are white!”         Mellody Hobson, Starbucks

Isn’t that incredible? What’s even more incredible is Mellody Hobson is a black woman. It’s not that she’s black that’s incredible, but her attitude towards Diversity and Affirmative Action. She agrees with the concept because in the case of Affirmative Action”, she viewed it as necessary to force change to the status quo because of the fierce opposition to change by…those middle age white guys! (That last part was mine, not Ms. Hobson’s)

Again, I’m not directly quoting but it was her tone I loved because it spoke this to me…”

I would hope we’ve learned by now that companies need to hire the best person for the job and that a team not look like it was created on a 3D Printer. Diversity isn’t about the difference in physical features or imperfections. It’s about the “Diverse Thinking” that accompanies it. And it’s about how when a team feels like every member brings their own unique self to the mix, it’s not about being “Equal Achievers”, but the bottom line; Being Successful…Together!

Alvin Law, CSP, HoF

In conclusion for this piece because this subject is infinite, I believe too many organizations view this kind of discussion somehow…”socialist”, or in other words a movement created by the very people who are disgruntled by every “buzz term” in the Human Resources playbook. I understand where that comes from.

When I got to Mount Royal College in Calgary to study Broadcasting in 1978, “Affirmative Action” had been around in a political way since 1961! Pretty creepy, huh? President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and not to get way off base here (too late) and some theories believe it was in part because he was himself a “socialist”…god forbid! The translation of this in my mind is; “A culture where everyone is equal and profits are shared for the greater good”. Indeed an oversimplification. In 1985, when I was nominated for the provincial election I referenced, I ran for the Conservative Party, viewed I suppose, as right-of-center. Many were shocked because there was a stereotype that as a “Disabled Person”, I’d support “Affirmative Action”, a left-of-center” belief. Do you wonder why I absolutely hate “Labels”?

I was raised to never, ever “expect” special treatment. So when I was in my first year of college, one skill we had to learn was editing reel-to-reel audio tape with a razor blade and special editing tape. To offer an uncomfortable example; some folks from a minority mindset might argue, “I don’t need to edit audio tape with a razor blade because affirmative action gives me an exclusion!” Trust me, I’ve heard those words, minus the audio tape part! I made it my personal goal to be the absolute best audio editor in my class, and I was clearly the only one using my feet! Guess what? I did it! I got and A+ in that module and went on to graduate after the two year course with “Honours”. I was hired by a radio station ten days after graduating because of my voice and editing skills. In 1980, the station manager at CFMQ-FM Radio in Regina, Saskatchewan could have cared less about affirmative action. Could I do the job better than any other applicant? Yes…Yes I Could! It’s that mindset I address in every speech and I believe is a subject that needs more clarity and less jargon. When you have the best team that reflects the “Diversity” of our population, you create the best culture which in turn brings out the best in every member of that team and ultimately, produce a profit for your employer which is the ultimate goal of business.

“Better People…Better Business!”
Alvin Law, CSP, HoF