For many people, “diversity” tends to bring very specific issues to mind.People often assume that a diversity conversation is going to primarily beabout one or some combination of these things; race relations, gender,affirmative action, quotas, harassment and compliance. While theseissues are certainly a part of the larger conversation, “diversity” does notmean any of these things.Diversity means difference…that is what the word means. We cannotexpect our conversations around issues related to diversity and inclusionto be actionable and relevant if we are not clear and consistent with ourlanguage.“Words do matter. Language is messy by nature, which is why we must be careful in how we use it. As leaders, after all, we have little else to work with. We typically dont use hammers and saws to do our real work. The essence of leadership -what we do with 98 percent of our time - is communication. Tomaster any practice, we must start by bringing discipline to the domain in which we spend most of our time, the domain of words.” -Peter Senge
There are many ways in which we can be different and here are some basiccategories for thinking about difference, each with different implications for work:Identity Diversity (differences in who we are) including, but not limited to:• primary dimensions such as orientation, gender, gender identity, race, physical ability, etc.• secondary dimensions such as marital status, level of education, military experience,religion, hobbies, geography, income level, etc.• organizational dimensions such as tenure, department, management status, etc.Cognitive Diversity (differences in how we think) including, but not limited to:• perspectives: subjective evaluation, point of view, how things appear to a person• heuristics: problem solving approach, rules of thumb• equifinality: openness to other approaches, perspectivesAffective Diversity (differences in how we feel, believe) including, but not limited to:• emotions: affective state of consciousness• beliefs: opinion or conviction, confidence in the truth of something not immediatelysusceptible to rigorous proof• values: what is considered to have worth, excellence, usefulness, or importanceBehavioral Diversity (differences in how we behave) including, but not limited to:• work style: natural patterns for getting our work done• communication style: natural patterns for communicating with co-workers• work-life balance: natural patterns of balancing priorities and demands
Difference (diversity) is a relational thing. Diversity exists within thecontext of relationship…and that is the only place that it exists. Youcan only be different from someone else…the relationship is inherent.That is why this work is largely about relationships…who we haverelationships with and the nature of those relationships. Diversity doesnot exist in people, it exists between people…and it exists between allpeople. Anytime there is more than one person present, diversity isalso present. This is one of the reasons why the “diversity vs. talent”debate that bubbles up from time to time is fundamentallymisinformed…talent is an individual attribute, diversity is not. Diversity(difference) is a relational attribute, shared and social in nature. You think that because you understand “one,” you must understand “two,” because one and one make two. But you must also understand “and.” -Sufi saying
Difference (diversity) generates change…it is a natural catalyst. Any timethat you introduce additional diversity into a social group or pay moreattention to existing diversity, you will change the dynamics and thepatterns of behavior in that social group (whether it be a family, acommunity, a team or an organization), because you are introducingadditional tension into that social group. Whether those changes lead topositive or negative outcomes depends on the capacity of that socialgroup to include difference. If you introduce additional difference withoutincreasing that capacity, you are likely to get outcomes like these:• increased us vs. them mentality• increased stereotyping• increased in-group favoritism• increased inter-group conflict• decreased employee satisfaction, performance, and retentionUnfortunately, when this happens, organizations and communities (andorganizational and community leaders) often misdiagnose what hashappened and conclude that diversity has caused these outcomes,whereas it is actually a product of the container that the diversity has beenintroduced to. This is why understanding inclusion is so important.
5 inclusion is theaction you take toinclude difference
All social groups (families, communities, organizations, etc.) areinherently conformist. They have a natural resistance to differenceand change. Organizations do things (intentional and unintentional,explicit and implicit) to keep difference out, and they do things(intentional and unintentional, explicit and implicit) to reduce orremove the difference of what “gets inside.”Inclusion is the actions that you take to include difference. Someorganizations are more inclusive than others, the key is to have anaccurate understanding of how inclusive your organizations is sothat you can be intentional and deliberate about the direction youare moving. Inclusion is incredibly important, as it is one of thecharacteristics of an organizations culture, that determines itsability to utilize the resources that it has access to, especially thehuman resources and the associated intangible assets such asperspectives, experiences, ideas, curiosity, etc.How much and what kinds of difference can your team, communityorganization include? And what evidence of this do you have?
To truly include difference requires sharing power, in a relationshipof equals.Unless an organization is aggressive and deliberateabout minimizing them, power and privilege dynamics makeinclusion very difficult. When power is not shared and one partyhas to do all of the accommodating, the relationship is not dialogicand inclusion is not happening. What was different is forced toconform, rather than naturally and organically interacting with theexisting culture, changing it and being changed by it, with bothparties doing some of the accommodating. Again, difference isrelational and diversity and inclusion work is largely about thenature of our relationships…so what kind of relationship are youinviting difference into? Who does the accommodating? Companies that learn to harness the value of decentralized power will win against those that simply exploit their people to perform specific tasks. -Nilofer Merchant, The New How
The more difference that you include, the more intersections youcreate…whether they be intersections of different people, politics,or professions. Intersections give life to new things. Sparks arethrown at those intersections where perspectives, assumptions,cultures, ideas and questions collide and this is what lights the firesof creativity and innovation.While there is great creative opportunity at these intersections,there is also tension. Anytime you bring difference together(regardless the kind of difference) you create tension. If you want toinclude more diversity and actually reap the rewards that diversityoffers, you have to be willing and able to work with and through thetension. This determines whether the natural tension gives life toconflict or creativity. Our time is a time for crossing barriers, for erasing old categories, for probing around. -Marshall McLuhan
Inclusion of something or someone that is different is proactive and itis disruptive tothe status quo. It is a constant struggle against oursocial drive toward conformity. It is also a struggle against our ownhuman nature, because even if we aspire to be nonjudgmental,” wecan easily end up with skewed perceptions and interpretations of thebehavior of others, especially those we believe to be different from us.Regardless of our good intentions, our level of education or our level ofprofessionalism, we are all very susceptible to being unintentionallyand even unconsciously influenced by things like assumptions,stereotypes, implicit associations, attribution errors and cognitivebiases. We are actually very ill equipped to reach accurateassessments of others and this is part of what makes it very difficult forus to actually be inclusive. If we are not proactive, intentional anddeliberate about including difference, we will unintentionally beexclusive. We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are. -Anais Nin
9 diversity andinclusion can be rich sources of value
Don’t believe the hype! Contrary to what you might have heard, the “business case fordiversity and inclusion” is stronger than ever. A few of the reasons why this work can be sovaluable to our organizations and communities:1. survival: one of the characteristics of organizations that outlast their competitors;“…openness to the outside world, tolerance for the entry of new individuals and ideas, andconsequently a manifest ability to learn and adapt to new circumstances.” (Arie de Geus )2. competitive advantage: for many organizations the great opportunity for competitiveadvantage is innovation, and diversity and inclusion are what innovation is made of.3. generational transition: we are on the front end of an unprecedented generationaltransition and organizations will need to understand generational differences to successfullynavigate.4. workforce demographics: the demographics of the workforce have changed andorganizations not good at attracting, engaging and retaining women and people of color aregoing to be competing for an increasingly small portion of the talent available.5. new consumer profile: the profile of the decision maker is changing and organizationswanting to capture emerging markets will need to be able to partner with and trulyunderstand those markets.6. better problem solving: diversity, especially cognitive diversity has been shown toimprove a groups ability to explore a broader set of options and to solve complexchallenges7. conformity kills: too much conformity can be a really bad thing allowing small technicalissues to develop into large scale tragedies. A focus on diversity and inclusion helpsminimize conformity.
Diversity and inclusion may be the most poorly understood set ofissues in the world of work today. Many organizations andcommunities struggle to even have effective discussions about issuesrelated to diversity and inclusion often due, at least partially, to a lack ofcommon language and shared understanding of core concepts.Everyone is using the same words, but talking about very differentthings. Organizational diversity and inclusion work faces a number ofchallenges today, but the greatest challenge before us may very well belack of clarity.We do not need universally agreed upon definitions and priorities, butthe mistake that organizations nearly always make is deciding to dosome diversity and inclusion work without clarifying, within thatorganization, what diversity means, what inclusion means, why thosethings matter and how the plan of action is aligned with and buildsupon that foundational understanding. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. -Switch, Dan and Chip Heath
the value of differencejoe gerstandt is a speaker and facilitator helping organizations and communities deliver on their promises…authenticity | diversity | inclusion | innovation joegerstandt.com firstname.lastname@example.org @joegerstandt 402.740.7081