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Diverse teams

“When confronted or pressed for details, [proponents of diversity] retreat into a familiar platitude, which they repeat like a Zen koan: diversity is our strength. But is diversity our strength? The less we have in common, the stronger we are? Is that true of families? Is it true in neighborhoods or businesses? Of course not. Then why is it true of America? Nobody knows. Nobody’s even allowed to ask the question.”

This quote from a book by television’s most popular political commentator who has been in the news lately.

It seems timely to answer his question, whether diversity is a strength of businesses, at least with respect to the utilities industry.

Of course it is. Indeed, there is no dispute in the matter. I have heard dozens of utility CEOs say this with complete conviction countless times, on-the-record and importantly, confided off-the-record.

Diverse teams, drawn from a variety of backgrounds, have more dynamic discussions about problems and solutions. That’s been my personal experience again and again as a leader of organizations big and small. And that’s been the personal experience of the very many industry leaders I have known and know.

Diverse teams are the product of competition, in this case among the brightest minds most dedicated to the organization’s mission. The brilliance and cruelty of competitive markets applies here too. The best are now more likely to get a seat at the table no matter their gender, ethnicity, age, religion, lifestyle, etc.

After forty-four years in the utilities industry, I’m more than able to testify that over all those years when some of the best faced big barriers between them and that table, the resulting teams were less dynamic, less dedicated, overall, less productive. That might have been acceptable to some during the decades when the challenges facing the utilities industry were less daunting and critical for the public interest. This is clearly not the case in the twenty-twenties.

Diverse teams in our industry do have a lot in common, despite the commentator’s claim. They might not share some traits like general appearance. Though they share more telling traits for taking on the strategic challenges before us. Such as intellectual flexibility, communication skill, and an urgency to perform and execute day-in-day-out. That’s real good stuff to have in common.


Steve Mitnick, Executive Editor, Public Utilities Fortnightly, and President, Lines Up, Inc.
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