ReimagineHR: Applying New Concepts in Social Science to D&I

ReimagineHR: Applying New Concepts in Social Science to D&I

Being both a “social issue” and a business concern, diversity and inclusion is one area where events in the corporate world can have a significant impact on society writ large: For example, just look at how businesses in the US have shaped the public conversation around issues like immigration, LGBT inclusion, and freedom of speech in the past two years. This dynamic works both ways, however, and changing conventions of how diversity is discussed in the academic and media environments can push organizations to rethink how they implement D&I on the ground. Recently, several new terms have entered this discourse that present new challenges (and opportunities) for D&I leaders to bring new dimensions to their work.

At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando last week, Gartner VP, Team Manager Lauren Romansky gave a presentation on three of these emerging concepts from psychology and sociology, and how D&I can leverage them as more than just buzzwords, to create value in their organizations. The terms are:

  • Intersectionality: A holistic picture of identity, which asserts that various dimensions of diversity (such as sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, gender, disability, or socioeconomic status) are inseparable when considering individual experiences. For example, whereas women and black Americans both experience specific forms of discrimination and adversity, the intersection of these identities means black women in particular have a discrete experience that is more than the sum of its parts.
  • Psychological safety: A shared belief that a team feels comfortable taking interpersonal risks. This means that team members are able to bring their authentic selves to work and communicate openly and transparently without fear of negative professional consequences. Psychological safety (a group dynamic) is different from trust (an individual dynamic), but can help build trust between team members.
  • Belonging: A sense of acceptance and community within a given group. Over the past several decades, D&I has evolved from making sure historically disadvantaged groups are represented in the workplace (diversity) to making sure they are invited to participate (inclusion). Belonging can be thought of as the next step in that evolution, toward making sure these employees feel like full members of their workplace communities.

Bringing these ideas into D&I can help add value in various ways.

As HR strategies come to focus more on creating a positive employee experience, the psychological and emotional impact of the work environment is increasingly important to consider, especially for diverse employees. We know that retention has been a challenge for many companies in meeting their diversity goals, as many new hires from underrepresented groups do not feel like they belong there, which compels them to quit. Focusing on these concepts not only helps retain employees, but can also encourage higher levels of performance: For example, our research at Gartner has found that a psychologically safe work environment can increase discretionary effort by up to 24 percent, while employees who are comfortable self-identifying at work register higher levels of both discretionary effort and intent to stay.

Attendees at last week’s session indicated greater familiarity with belonging (45 percent) and psychological safety (38 percent) than intersectionality, which just 17 percent of attendees said was familiar to them in a poll of the room. Nonetheless, when asked where they saw the greatest opportunity for their organizations, 56 percent said they saw opportunity in all three of these ideas; 22 percent identified psychological safety in particular, 13 percent intersectionality, and 9 percent belonging. Asked to name some other D&I “buzzwords,” participants called out “privilege” and “entitlement.”

In a fast-changing culture and media environment, it can be tempting to dismiss concepts like these as passing trends or academic notions. Considering how responsive D&I is to the prevailing social climate, however, they are worth paying attention to. Our research suggests that these buzzwords have real applications in D&I strategy, when it comes to making employees feel truly valued as individuals within their team and the organization as a whole.