Diversity is endangered by the politically correct!


Didier Marlier

May 15, 2015

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In our network, we count 9 wemen (out of 35), 1 Algerian, 4 Americans, 1 Australian, 3 Belgians, 5 Brazilians, 7 British, 3 Canadians, 1 Congolese, 1 Dutch, 9 French, 1 German, 1 Lebanese, 1 Swede, 3 Swiss (yes it counts more than 35 as we have double nationals) and we are based in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Honk-Kong, Malaysia, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States. We have heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual partners, some of us are married, single, divorced, remarried or live with their beloved ones. One runs almost a full zoo at home. We have academics, actors, artists, business graduates, engineers, medical doctors, models, psychoanalysts, psychologists and therapists. The youngest must be 33 and the oldest in their mid 60’s. Does that make the Enablers Network a diverse organization? NO!!!

Diversity in business can be apprehended in three ways:

  • Denied/rejected: It is a statistical fact of life: “Let us ignore it!”
  • Neutralized: Tolerance driven and politically correct: “Let us tick the boxes and be good corporate citizens”
  • Embraced: A formidable source of conflict, irritation, doubt, sometimes apparent inefficiency but an extraordinary field of creativity, energy, experience and joy: “It is irritating and difficult and let us enjoy it”

Unfortunately, crisis of all sorts raise the barriers of exclusion and protection. And we see it in politics (the rise of exclusionists and isolationists parties) or in trade (protectionism).

Lynda Gratton, a Professor of London Business School, coined the terms of Bonding (let us regroup against a common enemy) vs Bridging (let us open-up and seek to connect with others).

A friend mentioned to me the visit his team recently was paid by some of my favourite victims (a high flying household name consultancy). They were coming to check his “Diversity policies”. And, of course they had thought of the symbolism: 2 wemen and 2 men, all the colours of the rainbow were represented and came from all over the world. They opened their laptop and started to download tons of useless data about diversity… “The problem, he said to me, is that they were all dressed the same, in  grave diggers black suits, with ties from the same brand, with the same language and jargon. They were all moulded the same. They inspired anything you liked but not diversity!”

And that is exactly the point!!!

Diversity is not just about race, gender and location as this consultancy seems to think. They can be proxys or a place to start from. But, before anything else, Diversity is a state of mind, a Value, and a set of Behaviours!

I am frustrated, as the Managing Partner of the Enablers Network, because we grew too accustomed to each other (at least the “core team” of us). Like in those great sports team, we expect each other’s reactions, we care for each other, there is a strong shared behavioural style and set of beliefs about what Leadership Development is about! And that is great. But, little by little, we (and I am the first one) drifted into becoming an exclusion machine. Our uncompromising attitude with competence and professionalism also starts to fossilize into impatience and rejection of anyone that wouldn’t be able to perform at our (high) level of expectation, forgetting that it took me years to get to where I am and many more years to continue to where I’d like to be. Our jokes and humour drifted into “Men Club sexism”, ignoring that we may deeply offend, even unintentionally, ladies, or others in the team. Our stories refer to past situations, forgetting that new comers haven’t necessarily lived those “glorious moments”!

My team has never been as good as it is now. I honestly consider that, on many themes, I am miles behind those I once used to advise. I now see some of my partners at the top of their game, and it is a humbling and rewarding feeling. However, the Enablers Network may not last if it does not embrace Diversity!

Embracing diversity is not tolerating it. It is:

  • Looking for diverging opinions
  • Selecting different characters
  • Having open, constructive and respectful conversations about what surprises us in the other
  • Encouraging constructive and reinforcement feedback
  • And before anything else, maintain a High Challenge and High Support leadership stand and culture

When I took my MBA at IMD, one of our Leadership Professors kept on mentioning a study nicknamed: “The Paradox of Friendship”. In it, Bell Labs had apparently discovered that the creativity and capacity to innovate of their project teams drastically dropped 12 to 16 months after they had been assembled. The sociologists and anthropologists that the management had invited to understand what was going on, found out one mechanism: People had grown too comfortable with each other. They would always sit at the same place, relationships had become a routine, conflicts were neutralized and people were spending more time trying to get along rather than challenge and support each other. The recommendation of the experts was to introduce (and strongly protect!) an “agent provocateur” in the team who would rock the boat, ask smart questions and let the team find back its edge and high performance level.

This is why we need Diversity in our teams and organizations and it has very little to do with politically correct. This being said, my companion is an African born, woman, financial controller and ESTJ. If anyone knows the consultants I mention above, please ask them if I ticked all the boxes.


  1. Ricardo Mantovanini

    Você conseguiu resumir de maneira didática algo que concordo profundamente
    Um grande abraço

    • Didier Marlier

      Obrigado Ricardo. Muito tocado… Um forte abraço, saudade dos meus amigos Brasileiros!

  2. Gerson

    Like a pickles glass.
    Various colors and backgrounds but all with the same flavor and pH!
    Once again, thanks to Didier for sharing different way to see reality.

    • Didier Marlier

      😉 Thank you Gerson, nice way to say it!!! Abraço!

  3. Danielle

    Thanks for reminding us that diversity is more than about race and gender !

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Danielle,
      “Diversity is our ability to work effectively and efficiently with people who are different from us” was a nice definition one of us brought to me today…
      Thank you for your support!

  4. Martin Laudenbach

    Dear Didier,

    Thank you. Your thoughts reflect my deepest conviction that we need to embrace diversity in all its dimensions as a unique source of progress, innovation and peace.

    The Bell Labs example is a strong piece of evidence. Today’s management reality is, however, that INCLUSION (I prefer this term over diversity, as the latter has become too statistical in meaning) runs counter to our archaic instincts. Mounting performance pressure in an increasingly unpredictable environment typically reinforces our routines for risk avoidance, sticking to what we know and bonding with like minds against the threat of the unknown.

    Simplistic numeric diversity targets are indeed missing the point of inclusion and women quotas are not the solution. Yet, could the pressure of political correctness backed by uniformed consultants be a necessary lever to create broader change, even if this cannot be much more than an incomplete step towards true inclusion? Forcing people to experience diversity may help take some of the fear of it.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Martin,
      Spot on… Diversity should be seen as a source of progress. In the 80’s an interesting book by a French writer (who since got elected to the French Academy), Jean-Christophe rufin, called “L’Empire et les nouveaux Barbares” was explaining how the antique Rome, suddenly turned its back to curiosity, exploration and inclusion. This, following him, was the seed of its defeat. Yes, the bet on quotas is not the solution and may backfire but you are right that it does get things going and people talking about it… But get rid of the uniformed consultants;)

  5. Pat Kennedy

    Didier, your reference to the BELL LAB exercise reminded me of a term I came across many years ago and which I have often referred to during my active years, namely the inertia caused by artificial harmony in management teams.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you dear Pat… Yes, your comment reminds me as well from the research of Lencioni arguing that this artificial harmony ends up costing very dearly to the teams not being courageous enough to “hold the difficult conversations” which are long overdue! Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts.

  6. pierre Juan

    I cannot agree more with your message today, I believe that a lack of ” true” diversity within a Company , or a social group , even a country is a Source of degeneration , it reduces the energy of the group , his ability to adapt to changes and to innovate. But the word “diversity” covers different concept as pointed out by Martin, and this is maybe part of the problem, I think originally promoting diversity intended to integrate minorities, giving the chance to anyone to participate. It was rather a social concept coming from the US culture of “positive discrimination”, assuming that minorities would be rejected from the social groups if they are not supported ( black people, females, non-conventional, sexual orientation,…) and that promoting diversity was a factor of integration to reinforce cohesion of the social group. Translated in the environment of a corporation driven by profit , it turns into a slightly different concept that mixing peoples with different skin Color, gender or different nationalities will bring diversity of opinions , behavior and energize the Company. Fundamentally this is based on the assumptions that people looking different are different by nature, somehow this concept is based on racism or machismo and pre-conceived judgments even if it has good intention to push tolerances. But as you rightfully said, it is not the Color of the skin or the Country of origin that define diversity any more , the World has changed and even in exotic countries, females and gays can follow a Business / Engineering university education, get a standard MBA and fit the profile of a Standard politically correct Manager.
    Diversity that would moves companies further should be based on mixing different opinions, emotional behaviours, education level or personal with different historical background, but this is more difficult to measure than ratio . Again I agree with you that diversity should be in the Company value : tolerate differences, trigger controversial debate, respect diverse opinions. The Management is more exposed, takes more risks, the risk to create personal conflicts, emotional E mails chains , lose control and eventually lose in efficiency , on the other hand I believe that well managed diversity can bring more innovation, engage employees make team more versatile and release their passion . Managing true diversity requires people Management Skills , it is far more unconfortable than Managing ratios !

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Pierre for this testimonial and for the passion that transpires. I love your closing line! It is provocative but summarizes the wholepoint. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Kind regards

  7. Jay Rao

    Bravo my friend! You have pushed me to reflect; again. Love the Bell Labs example.

    When I have to check boxes in forms (like the consultants) I am forced into the following categories: Male, 50yrs, S.Asian, post-grad education, academic. When I introduce myself, I say: My body is Indian; my academic training is U.S.; the executives that shaped my thinking are/were Western European; my heart is Latin (married to an Colombian). You cannot capture diversity on a spreadsheet. Jay

    • Didier Marlier

      😉 Thank you dear Jay… I will remember “You cannot capture diversity on a spreadsheet”… Excellent! Have a great week!


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