Diversity & Inclusion or D&I, training has been the craze for the last couple of decades…Yet, we remain uncomfortable around race, gender and other differences. Some say it is unnecessary, since biases, discrimination, inequality, or disparate treatments do not apply in today’s world.
Delusional, I say.
Of course we are biased. It’s our survival mechanism. A wild animal charges, and you instinctively react and flee. Our brain is wired to categorize images and ignite an immediate response that is unfiltered. Referring to UC Berkley Professor John A. Powell’s work around inner circle (think of babies and furry kittens) and outer circle (terrorist, criminal, etc.), we place people and situations into our own inner and outer circles and instinctively respond with “Fight or Flight”.
Since we are not psychologists, therapists or social workers, we may feel this topic doesn’t apply to our everyday lives. We can attribute this biased and instinctual behavior as a fact of life and nature; survival of the fittest.
But in reality, we miss opportunities, innovation and increased productivity, by excluding all outer circle people and situations. Even Nancy Lee, Google’s director of diversity and inclusion, agrees, stating “To succeed in business today, you need ideas coming from every perspective and background.”
While researching for this article, I could easily relate two current clients to the topic of Perspective & Awareness:
- Situation: A large corporate client is struggling with low morale, disengagement, ineffective performance management processes. Additionally, they are on the verge of several EEO Act lawsuits, from former employees. Executive leadership is willfully blind around disparate treatments; and becomes defensive when issues are raised. Our assessment and interviews confirmed that the corporate culture is mired in biases and unintentional discrimination.
Solution: Implementing a series of executive coaching sessions with executive leaders to address effective leadership and awareness; while concurrently providing morale boosting workshops for the team. Along with formalized compliance training to address EEO violations and a complete revamping of the Performance Management process.
- Situation: A local institution is stagnant, in terms of revenue and morale; having difficulties embracing the expanding millennial segment. Internally, they are struggling with employee retention since senior leaders can’t communicate effectively with these younger employees. Nor does leadership understand the priorities that drive millennials.
Externally, the company is unable to penetrate the millennials segment, and attract them as clients- the marketing messages don’t resonate and they are not leveraging social media at all.
Solution: Professional development for senior leaders around Changing Demographics, Cultural Fluency and Effective Communication. Along with a completely revamped branding and marketing campaign to capture this emerging client base.
We could easily attribute the above challenges to ineffective Sales, Leadership, HR or Training; but that would be willful blindness followed by intentional negligence. My friends, the above cases are directly tied to a lack of awareness and an unwillingness to change, driven either by nonexistent resources or leadership.
Allow me to re-categorize or redefine “Diversity & Inclusion” into “Differing Perspectives and Awareness” in hopes of making the topic more palatable.
By admitting that differing perspectives exist and are, in fact, necessary for human evolution and acknowledging that these perspectives drive our actions and opinions, we can begin a dialogue around very difficult issues. Such as Freddie Gray, gay marriages, wage inequalities or gun control. These issues traverse social justice, economic equality and basic human rights; and are clearly not just about the business case of Diversity & Inclusion.
Pulling from my immigrant background and humble, and I mean sleeping-on- floors humble, beginnings, I am open to differing perspectives; disrupting my outer circle biases and preconceived notions sufficiently to listen and engage with others. I have learned over and over again, that there are always two sides to every story. Two sides to every argument. And many, many potential solutions. We simply need parties to be invested in discussing, listening and learning from one another to arrive at an acceptable compromise.
Diversity & Inclusion should not be a jaded topic, relegated to the bottom of the agenda, yielding eye-rolls and yawns. It is actually a business mandate that drives sales growth (per 2014 US Census estimates, Hispanics comprise 9% of the population in Maryland and millennials are approximately 20%), employee engagement and retention. D&I is threaded through the fabric of day to day operations, part of communications, marketing, human resources, etc.
We’ve learned our own branding lessons and intentionally avoid titling our training courses Diversity & Inclusion to avoid the cynicism and oversight. We emphasize the Professional Development, Effective Leadership and Communication aspects to foster open dialogue.
Yes, difficult issues lead to very difficult conversations that are intensely uncomfortable. By adopting a willingness to listen, learn, interact and accept that differing perspectives do exist, you can grow, personally and professionally; while also fostering an inclusive environment within your own organization.
Till next time.