Tuesday, January 10, 2006

MS Biz Column: Get back to work!

By Natalie Criss
Assistant Editor
Metro Business Chronicle
MS Biz Column: December 2005

In the words of Todd Rundgren, “I don’t want to work…I just want to bang on the drum all day.” According to a lengthy special advertising section in the December/January 2006 issue of Working Mother, that’s exactly what 700 attendees did at Working Mother Media’s Best Companies for Women of Color Multicultural Conference 2005. In celebration of diversity, tolerance, and trust, some of the country’s top female executives danced and banged on bongos.

The purpose was to set the tone for the entire conference, the theme of which was Trust: A Business and Cultural Imperative. Apparently, this was a bonding exercise (obviously because we women are emotional creatures who need to bond in order to trust) that served as an analogy demonstrating that the individual/drummer is the part of a whole/“drumming orchestra”.

The ideas and myths of multiculturalism spread far beyond the advertising section of a magazine and have made their way into boardrooms and classrooms across the country. Ask a middle schooler if he or she has an opinion regarding diversity and examine the origin of the answer closely. Likewise, compare the words of Working Mother conference attendants throughout this column with the views of homegrown family, friends and neighbors. For those who want to be fair-minded, the politics of diversity are accepted as common knowledge, conventional wisdom would have us believe.

Diversity, minority, and tolerance are all words that used to mean something laudable until leftist pundits hijacked them. Diversity, which once represented generic variety, as in diversity of thought, now means “different but equally important” and opens the door wide for relativism and subjectivism. Minority is now synonymous with special interest group. Tolerance has become a negative stand-in for courtesy and respect. Now trust is being twisted into a state of vulnerability that supplants reliability.

In results-oriented careers (which includes all private sector jobs), the outcome of such muddled language is confusion and entitlement. One returning attendee of the Working Mother conference remarked to panelists, “I followed what you said [last year] to a T, and it worked. I found a sponsor. I got a promotion, and I know it was only because the CFO knew my name and who I was.” Only because. How sad that this young executive doesn’t include her hard work as a possible explanation for her advancement; sadder still that others are left to wonder if she was promoted not for her track record but for her minority status.

With all this relativism, subjectivism, confusion and entitlement, who decides what is fair? What have we done to ourselves, our standards of excellence, our work ethic by buying into the politics of diversity? Initially set up to protect us and promote equality, are we getting what we deserve or shooting ourselves in the foot?

Some would argue that we deserve more simply because we are women or non-white. One conference speaker insisted, “White corporate America has a responsibility to do right by women of color. And women of color have a responsibility to exercise the power that we have to attack the issues that haunt our lives…to change our own condition. Corporate America needs to act and understand that if you’ve seen one woman, you have not seen us all.”

How many contradictions and flaws in logic are in that one statement? I counted seven.

Additionally, the politics of diversity does not unite women or minorities under a banner of equality as effectively as it divides us into rivaling, bickering groups. Another conference attendee and Director of Worklife Diversity at a large pharmaceutical company lamented that, during same-race discussions, the white women in her group were focused more on gender issues than on race. She then challenged “all white women who put their energy toward gender [to] put it toward race,” which is laughable. For whom should they advocate, their own white race or hers? It doesn’t matter.

The women at Working Mother Media consider their conference a success whereas I view it as a microcosm of the corruption and inconsistency inherent of the politics of diversity.

“Workplace diversity” does not have to be a controversial subject. As a matter of fact, the real goal—to remove barriers to productivity—is not controversial at all. But isn’t this issue far too complex for a one-size-fits-all plan of action? Not at all. Removing subjective criteria and relativistic expectations will reveal accurate, consistently true solutions. We may find that we had the answer to this equation all along.

The key to career advancement is work. It is that simple. Sure, networking is important, but it is only through consistent performance that reputations are proven and trust is earned. If a person works harder, better, and more efficiently than coworkers, competent superiors take notice. When the opportunity for advancement arises, candidates are weighed against a company’s results-oriented goals. In the end, either the productive worker wins or the company loses.

In a market driven economy, the odds are already in our favor. So please, put down the drum and get back to work. That is the real ticket to success.

Copyright 2005. Business Ink. For permission to reprint, email natalie@metrochronicle.com

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