Is talent management too exclusive to be inclusive?

Dr. Riitta Lumme-Tuomala – Aalto University Executive Education

December 20, 2021

Does exclusivity exclude diversity and ignore inclusion? Can we pursue effective talent management in the organization while being inclusive and cherishing diversity? Yes, we can, writes Dr. Riitta Lumme-Tuomala of Aalto University Executive Education.

While diversity doesn’t have an exact academic definition, we can probably agree that the concept, or philosophy if you will, is crucial to any well-functioning organization, business, sports team, or universe.

Many studies, research and empirical evidence point in this direction. McKinsey & Company reported in 2020 that D&I’s business case is stronger than ever; diverse companies are likely to outperform their industry counterparts in terms of profitability, while lack of diversity translates into, for example, lower profits and deterioration of corporate image and difficulties in recruiting talent.

We understand diversity in various ways. “Difference” is central to how you want to decipher diversity. Different is different, it is not the same as “wrong”. Our prejudices, which are numerous and impossible for the average person to recognize all of them, can in fact lead us to consider the difference as false and foreign. And we act accordingly.

When recruiting and reviewing candidates for challenging new positions and talent pools, we look for cultural fit and alignment with the organization’s current ways of working, and therefore unconsciously sacrifice e.g. cognitive diversity. Which in turn is the only source of innovation and new ways of doing things. We recruit people like us and we bring together people who are like us. Diversity has a price, no one says it’s easy and only leads to inclusion if we really work hard against our biases and prejudices and set examples of D&I every day.

Talent management can be defined as “the right people in the right place at the right time”. We first need to find a way to recognize and, sorry for the strong word, fight our own biases to really focus on the “right”. Straight does not mean as was, and straight may vary from position to position and from period to period. All of this only has real impact if we ensure that we actively value differences and use them constructively in the organization to achieve our strategic goals and further the mission of the organization.

The constructive recognition and use of different strengths and skills is – talent management! As Elke Heitmüller, Head of Diversity Management at Volkswagen, says: “In football, each person is placed in the optimal position according to their abilities. You can learn that from sports. Thus, inclusion does not exclude exclusive talent management.

When employees understand what is expected of them in terms of the strategic goals of the entire organization and it is understood that different strengths are needed in different positions at different times, we learn to use and master our own strengths, we have a chance to understand why different opportunities are offered to people at different times. Why do we understand and agree to choose the best and most suitable right wing for a football team but do not appreciate the equivalent choices and appointments in an organization?

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