A 9-hour flight with no entertainment system is the perfect opportunity to put on paper some of my thoughts on a very complex topic.
For the last 2–3 years I’ve been watching the conversations around the topic of diversity unfold. As someone who views “live at let live” as a core principle I’m trying to live by, and social justice as a core value I believe in, I was often surprised by how excluded I felt from engaging on this topic. I feared that the curious/questioning/contrarian approach by which I make sense out of the world around me will be misinterpreted as “just another white dude who doesn’t get it”. But I will learn very little out of fear, so instead, I’d like to offer two ideas on how we might be able to advance the dialogue going forward based on observing and participating in many conversations on this topic over the past few years.
If there’s one thing that I know about my current point-of-view is that it is wrong. In the sense that I’m sure I’ll be embarrassed by its crudeness in a few months/years once I gain a more refined understanding of this topic. But that’s what learning is all about, and creating this snapshot in time will help accelerate the pace of learning.
1. Start with Inclusion rather than Diversity
To explain what that means, I found the following distinction between the terms helpful:
- Diversity is a state in which multiple perspectives are present
- Inclusion is a set of behaviors that enable these perspectives to manifest themselves and influence the course of business
- Belonging is a feeling of being to be your full self as part of a group and be valued for that
While the definitions themselves are far from perfect, the critical distinction is between a state, behavior and feeling.
Many organizations start with diversity, specifically trying to change the mix of individuals that the organization consists of, as measured by a set of agreed-upon categories (gender, ethnicity, etc.) with the aim of eliminating, or at least reducing under-representation. At first glance, it seems like a compelling strategy because measuring progress seems easy (we’ll discuss a big caveat here later) and the change that’s required seems rather mechanical: tweak the recruiting process to reduce bias. And yet, even
organizations that have been at it for years now, struggle to deliver meaningful results, and for some of the ones who do, results seem to be short-lived.
Inclusion is a harder goal to start with, but one that is more likely to yield long-lasting results. The distinction at the beginning of this section helps explain the benefits of this approach:
- Focusing on changing the composition prevents us from doing more with the diversity that we already have in the existing members of our organization. This is important because diversity does not automatically translate to inclusion and belonging. Which leads to the 2nd point:
- Part of the challenge with obtaining long-lasting diversity results stems from the lack of inclusion. We can bring diversity in. But if these members don’t end up feeling like they belong — they will leave. By focusing
on inclusive behaviors first, we may get improved diversity, almost as a by-product.
2. Re-frame the conversation: from “us vs. them” to “all of us”
Much of the dialogue today is centered around specific identity attributes (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity). In addition to being incredibly reductionist in describing what makes us us, it forces us to have this conversation using an “us vs. them” language: minorities vs. majority, whites vs. non-whites, men vs. women, straight vs. gay, etc. It creates a false pretense that progress for one must come at the expense of the other and it alienates many in the “them” camp rather than enlists them in committing to the difficult behavior change that’s needed.
We’re more likely to achieve the outcome that we seek by focusing on what we have in common rather than on what sets us apart. So instead, we can shift the conversation to focus on the need to belong as a universal need. Regardless of how each of us self-identifies.
A little over a year ago, CultureAmp and Paradigm designed a Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging survey that we can glean some interesting
insights from. Even though the survey is no longer available on the CultureAmp website, it can be accessed using the WayBack machine here (hardly anything on the internet truly disappears)
The survey is organized around 7 dimensions: belonging, decisions, diversity, fairness, purpose, resources and voice; with 2–4 statements pertaining to each:
- I can be my authentic self at work
- Even when something bad happens, I don’t question whether or not I belong at my company
- I feel respected at my company
- I feel like I belong at my company
- I am included in decisions that affect my work
- Perspectives like mine are included in the decision making at my company
- I am satisfied with how decisions are made at my company
- My company values diversity
- My company builds teams that are diverse
- I believe that my total compensation is fair, relative to similar roles at my company
- My job performance is evaluated fairly
- People from all backgrounds have equal opportunity to succeed at my company
- Administrative tasks that don’t have a specific owner are fairly divided at my company
- I understand how my work contributes to my company’s mission
- The work that we do at my company is important
- When there are career opportunities at my company I am aware of them
- I know where to find information to do my job well
- My company believes that people can always greatly change their talents and abilities
- My company enables me to balance work and personal life
- When I speak up, my opinion is valued
- I can voice a contrary opinion without fear of negative consequences
- At my company, there is open and honest two-way communication
I have some minor qualms with the relevance and phrasing of some of the statements but I find the overall dimensions to be rather compelling and comprehensive.
A few observations on the universality of these statements looking at the survey design and results:
- They use an “all of us” language that makes it a lot easier to rally behind working collectively to improve them in the organization
- Some of the lowest rated statements are issues for EVERYONE. Awareness of career opportunities is a good example
- The differences across statements are significantly larger than the differences within statements (at least when sliced by gender). There’s a 55% difference between the highest and lowest rated statement, and only a 15% difference between men and women on the most polarizing statement.
Would these two ideas solve the challenge of making progress on diversity, inclusion and belonging? I think that’s rather unlikely. But I believe they might allow us to advance the conversation that will lead to the progress we all seek.