I received various emails on my recent column dealing with management standardization. Many people were concerned that my column suggested that standard procedures are not necessarily the best way to manage, and that if this is the case, wasn’t I suggesting discriminating double standards?
I think those concerns are valid.
Historically, we know that managers’ discretional use of rules and procedures has been used to discriminate against people—minorities and women in particular. But it’s also true that some rules and procedures discriminate on the basis that they are often developed from the perspective of a dominant group, and those rules are often easier to live by for people who share the culture of the dominant group. The uniform application of a rule or concept can discriminate against many people who would otherwise be just as qualified.
According to Jean Mavrelis, a colleague of mine and a gender and cross-cultural expert, we need to distinguish between “Double Standard I” and “Double Standard II.” The former is using different standards that simply create discrimination. The second double standard is using different standards to create equality. For example, should we build exactly the same number of bathroom stalls for men and women?
For a fair outcome we should build a greater number of bathroom stalls for women, since women on the average take a longer time in the bathroom (believe it or not someone actually studied this and found significant time differences). So “bathroom-stall equality” does not produce “equality” since women will have to wait in lines longer and more often than men.
The key concept is outcome. If using the same standard produces unequal outcomes, we should be concerned. However, different standards for different people (in order to produce equal outcomes) will no doubt receive resistance. Many will claim you cannot have “special rules” for “special people” because then everyone will want to have access to those special rules. The solution, according to Mavrelis, is to develop rules that are more inclusive of the needs of those “special groups,” but apply them universally.
For example, relocation is often a vital step in the career of a manager. There’s an implicit rule in many companies that in order to move up, you need to move out. This rule is much easier to follow if you are a person who grew up in the United States, where being independent is appreciated, and where no one in your family is going to mind that you live where it is most convenient for you. In other cultures, where physical proximity to the family is important, this rule is not as easy to adopt, and if it is undertaken, it can sometimes carry with it social and psychological burdens.
Mavrelis often refers to how companies view the concept of family when they consider relocating someone. In mainstream U.S. culture, the family means only father, mother, and children, but in other cultures, a family may include grandparents or nephews. Obviously, you cannot make a rule stating that if you come from a certain culture, you can include extended family as part of your nuclear family, and at the same time prohibit other employees from taking advantage of this rule.
According to Mavrelis, the best approach would be to say that a family consists of all family members residing in the same household, and that relocation benefits include all of them. This way everyone can make use of the rule, regardless of the type of culture or tradition they come from.
No doubt, in this globalized world we live in, developing rules that are more inclusive and do not discriminate will require a reconceptualization of what makes sense and is fair in a world marked by diversity.