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Talent management: too exclusive to be inclusive?

8th Dec 2021
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Does exclusivity exclude diversity and ignore inclusion? Can we pursue impactful talent management in the organization while still being inclusive and cherishing diversity? Yes, we can, writes Dr. Riitta Lumme-Tuomala from Aalto University Executive Education. 

While diversity has no exact academic definition, we can presumably agree that the concept, or philosophy if you want, is crucial for any well-functioning organization, company, sports team, or the universe for that matter.

There are numerous studies, research, and empirical evidence pointing to that direction. McKinsey & Company reported in 2020 that the business case for D&I is stronger than ever; diverse companies are likely to outperform industry peers on profitability while the lack of diversity can be seen in e.g. decreasing profits and deteriorating company image and difficulties in recruiting talent. 

We understand diversity in diverse ways. “Difference” is in the core of how ever you want to decipher diversity. Different is different, it does not equal “wrong”. Our biases, which are numerous, and it is impossible for any average person to recognize them all, can actually lead us to consider different as wrong and alien. And we act accordingly.

When recruiting and considering candidates for new challenging positions and talent pools, we look for cultural fit and alignment with current ways of working in the organization, and consequently advertently and unconsciously sacrifice e.g. cognitive diversity. Which in turn is the only source of innovation and novel ways to do things. We recruit individuals like ourselves and herd with people similar to us. Diversity has a price, no one says it is easy, and only leads to inclusion if we really work hard against our biases and prejudices and give examples of D&I every day.

Talent management can be defined as “right people in the right place at the right time”. We must find a way to first recognize and, apologies for the strong word, fight our own biases to really concentrate on the “right”. Right does not mean similar to what has been and right can vary from position to position and from one period to another. All this only has a genuine impact if we ensure that we actively value differences and use them constructively in the organization to achieve our strategic goals and pursue the mission of the organization.

The constructive recognition and usage of different strengths and competences is – Talent Management!  As Elke Heitmüller, the head of Diversity Management at Volkswagen states: “In football, every person is being placed in the optimum position according to their capabilities. You can learn that from sport.” So, inclusion does not exclude exclusive talent management. When employees understand what is expected from them in terms of strategic goals of the whole organization, and it is understood that different strengths are needed in different positions at different times, we get to use and master our own strengths, we have a chance to understand why different opportunities are given to people at different times. Why do we comprehend and accept choosing the best and most suitable right wing to a football team but do not appreciate the equivalent choices and appointments in an organization?

The article is part of a wider series in ‘Aalto Leaders Insight’. 

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