Diversity training can be uncomfortable for many of us because we have a fear of either being judged or seen as judging others. Even popular and forward thinking television shows reveal our discomfort with the subject. Although it’s hysterically funny and a bit over the top, this episode of The Office, shows how totally off track perceptions of diversity and the experiences of others appear.
Both Saturday Night Live and Jerry Seinfield TV shows have been called out for their lack of diversity. SNL’s absence of a black female cast member on the show since Maya Rudolph left, and Jerry uses the defense “Funny is the world I live in…I have no interest in gender or race…Are you making us laugh or not?”
The diversity challenge goes way beyond your company’s legal obligations to comply with legislation for equal opportunity and non-discrimination. A diverse workforce has lower turnover, better employee morale, higher sales and increased profits.
When it comes to living out diversity, the truth is, we find it much easier to simply keep ourselves surrounded by people like us even though, the benefits of a diverse workforce are HUGE!
Truth One – Where there is Diversity there is profit!
Study after study proves diversity adds to the bottom line. In fact, way back in 2009, a study was published in the “American Sociological Review”. When the researchers compared the workplaces with the most diversity to those with lowest levels of racial diversity, the workforces with a mix of races had 15 times more sales. That’s impressive…and we are only talking about racial diversity in this study.
True diversity is not that simple. It is much more than a mixture of races and genders. It encompasses ethnic groups, age, personality type, cognitive style, ability, tenure, education, lifestyle, organizational function and a whole host of other things.
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”
~ Stephen Covey
Neil Lenane is Business Leader Talent Management with Progressive Insurance. He is quoted as saying, “If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.” He says the company does not see diversity as a program. Instead it is a cultural movement with measurable results. The team is able to overcome inhibitions and apprehensions to become more innovative. With innovation comes the ability to better understand customer needs.
As a bonus, he believes this core principle allows the company to cast a wider net to reach the best talent too. This is a claim you will often hear from companies who have successfully implemented diversity into the company culture.
Diversity brings profits in the television industry too. Although many see the entertainment industry to be liberal and progressive, true diversity in this industry is in its infancy. Data from ratings shows the highest-rated dramas and comedies were shows with 41 to 50 percent Black/Latino/Asian casts and had a median household rating of 5.84. Shows casting the least diverse mix had a median household rating of 3.79. So, this season we can look for shows like Blackish, Christela, The Goldbergs, and the newest featuring an Asian-American family, Fresh Off the Boat to prosper.
Truth Two: Diversity can be Messy
With all this data supporting the fact diversity is a profitable undertaking, why do we still need to talk about it? The bottom line truth of bringing diversity into the workplace is uncomfortable and it’s challenging.
Newer companies begin the hiring process with an intentional focus on incorporating diversity into the company culture. It is one reason why many new start ups are making higher profits. When your company is large and well established, diversity is a bigger challenge. Here is why:
- Communication Barriers: When the workforce is made up of people with different perceptions, cultures and native languages it can often spiral into ineffective communication. Team members may be confused, have trouble working as a team and eventually lead to low morale.
- Resistance to Change: In every established company you will have employees who refuse to accept change. The mentality of “we’ve always done it this way” destroys any new ideas and stops progress in its tracks.
- Leadership Weaknesses: Having a workshop about diversity does not prepare the leadership for managing a diverse workforce. Although they may be armed with assessment data of employees, creating an implementation plan for their particular team is no small task.
Sad to say, exclusion is a human instinct. People tend to cluster in tightly knit groups because they want to be with others who think like them. Gender diversity often falls prey to this bias. Men, who dominate the upper management positions, tend to spend time together casually. They may all go to lunch together for example. Asking the upwardly mobile female to join them may feel uncomfortable to everyone involved. Yet, relationships are deepened, business is discussed and decisions are made in these informal encounters.
Formal mentoring can be an effective way to address the subtle prejudices that sabotage diversity efforts. Mentors provide advice, feedback and career coaching , and almost no one is blatant about their discriminatory attitudes. It shows up in subtle habits that are harder to diagnose and very hard to cure.
The next step after mentoring is sponsorship. Sponsors are advocates in positions of authority who use their influence intentionally to help others advance. Both are important to advancement as employees navigate the workplace and earn opportunities for growth.
Truth Three: Your Brain is to Blame
Even when a change of habits is life or death, humans are resistant to making drastic changes. Studies show that about one out of nine patients who undergo coronary bypass surgery actually changed their habits. Although the number of studies to support lifestyle changes is abundant, these patients settle back into their familiar lifestyle and took their chances.
If people won’t change their behavior to save their own lives, how can we expect them to change their work habits just because it will make them happier, more innovative and provide massive profits to the company where they work?
Here is the scientific answer: the interplay between working memory and focused attention are at odds with each other. Working memory, the holding area where new information can be used, engages the prefrontal cortex. It is the brain’s area for rational thinking. It is energy-intensive and fatigues easily.
The brain is wired to recognize perceived differences between an expected outcome and actual outcomes. When it perceives differences, it fires off neurons connected to fear. With the fear circuitry engaged, it quickly morphs into anger and counterproductive behaviors.
Humans love to do what is easiest and the brain supports the easy way of perceiving. When you are doing known tasks, the basal ganglia, located deep in the brains core, is in performance. These behaviors take less energy than what is needed by the prefrontal cortex. No real conscious thought is required, so diverse ideas are quickly and easily rejected.
Without the ability to intentionally overcome our brain’s reaction to outside perceptions, it becomes really hard to collaborate with people who think differently. Understanding how the brain is wired will help empower your actions toward diversity goals.
Truth Four: The World is Getting Smaller
As the world of business becomes more globalized, the need for diversity increases. Technology has allowed business to be conducted across borders easily. Expanding into foreign markets is absolutely essential for success in world-class companies. Otherwise, smaller companies from across the world who were “born global” will drain away market share.
Decisions made during the process of globalization walk a thin line between efficiency, with consistent processes, and adapting to the markets of different cultures. Having a diverse workforce gives these companies a competitive advantage. When employees come from diverse backgrounds it gives the company a wider perspective. A diverse customer base pushes innovation to develop new products and services to meet the needs of a diverse marketplace.
Truth Five: Trust the Process
The inherent discomfort of diversity can be overcome when it is part of a company’s everyday process. Four primary processes can be remembered with 4C’s – Commitment, Collaboration, Communication and Competence. When these 4C’s are applied to the goal of diversity in the workplace, trust is developed.
“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are a product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” ~ James Surowiecki
Trust is critical to the success of a diverse team because they will be constantly interacting to reach company goals. In a blog article, Emergenetics explains how they have developed a process called the WE approach to collaboration. Their methods show how high-level teams tap into the different brains of individuals to establish trust.
- Credible resources are used to support facts and conclusions which open up the analytical pathways in the brain.
- Procedures are established for everyone to follow with a process to create realistic timelines and expectations. The processes and procedures protect the brain from feelings of fear.
- Social consideration is given to how certain behaviors may impact other people and validate their feelings and emotions.
- Exploring new concepts opens the conceptual pathways in the brain to allow each member to communicate their vision of the future.
The article goes on to say, “The combining of thoughts and behaviors in a way that expresses respect and understanding to those around us enables us to build and maintain trust over time.”
In an article in Inc magazine, Geil Browning, brain researcher and founder of Emergenetics shares her lessons in diversity.
- Communicate openly about cognitive diversity.
- Deliberately hire all thinking and behavior types.
- Put your diversity to work.
- Make cognitive diversity a core part of your culture.
As more and more companies are uncovering the benefits of a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive environment in which each member of the team is valued, respected, and is able to fully contribute their talents, the conversations will become easier.
When we reach the point we can see diversity and inclusion as a normal ways to build successful companies, our world will be better for it.
In the words of Commander Spock in Star Trek: “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations…symbolizing the elements that create truth and beauty.”