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.
Michelle Kim, co-founder and CEO of the diversity and inclusion consultancy Awaken, is tired of making the business case for D&I. That’s not because the business case isn’t strong enough, Kim writes in a recent post at Medium, but because she has found that the executives who demand a bottom-line argument for diversity are usually looking for a reason not to invest in it. In other words, “We’re wasting too much time trying to convince those who don’t have the desire to be convinced.”
The problem with making the case for D&I on the basis of the return the organization can expect to make on that investment, she argues, is that D&I is hard to do: It’s uncomfortable, it requires organizations to question their norms and processes, and it’s a long-term game with no quick fixes, in which progress is often hard to quantify. With a focus on ROI, it’s too easy to look at the short-term outcomes of a D&I program and conclude that it isn’t working, when really it’s just getting started:
Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace requires a multi-pronged, iterative, and long-term strategy. It takes real commitment to continue what sometimes could feel like an endless journey. Sometimes you’ll take one step forward and three steps back. You’ll need to constantly reevaluate your approach because the world of D&I is constantly changing (and it always will).
If you’re only focused on the quantifiable ROI of D&I, it’s not going to be enough to fuel this long term battle. You’ll end up looking for that “checklist” that merely gets you to comply with what’s minimally required. You’ll treat D&I as a crisis prevention strategy.
According to our diversity and inclusion research at CEB, now Gartner, creating an inclusive team climate is just as important as improving diversity. However, organizations still struggle to determine what inclusion looks like for them. For many of us, the concept of diversity is concrete, but inclusion feels a lot less defined. D&I budgets are increasingly focused on leadership development and D&I leaders are making inclusive leadership a priority, but most employees don’t agree that their manager fosters an inclusive environment, and perceptions of inclusivity are lower further down the organization chart than they are among senior leaders.
In a session on building inclusive leaders at our ReimagineHR conference on Wednesday, we heard from Bob Lennon, VP of Industrial Components Business at Rockwell Automation; Aida Sabo, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Parexel; and Celeste Warren, VP of HR and the Global D&I Center of Excellence at Merck, about how they are defining inclusion for their organizations and implementing it in their organizational cultures. Here are some key ideas that came up in Wednesday’s conversation for how to encourage inclusiveness among leaders and the entire workforce:
Create a Common Language of Inclusion
The definitions of “diversity” and “inclusion” can vary across organizations and each leader and employee also may have a different interpretation of how these live within the company. The most successful organizations, however, define the D&I narrative for all their leaders and employees globally. By using a common vocabulary to communicate D&I efforts to the workforce, the organization can have a clear understanding of what inclusion means. Storytelling also can be an essential tool for communicating the success of inclusion initiatives, as it is important to know what metrics and success stories to share with leaders, employees, and external stakeholders to create transparency and accountability.
Make Inclusion About the Entire Workforce
Oftentimes employees who do not identify as a part of a marginalized talent segment feel excluded by D&I efforts, but according to our panelists, it is not only important to get these employees to buy into inclusion, they are in fact an essential part of these initiatives. Some employees get stuck because they don’t know where they are in their own journey of inclusion or recognize the significance of supporting D&I as an ally.
We know that maintaining civility in the workplace is important for employee engagement and productivity, and that many employees won’t abide feeling disrespected at work. In an effort to foster a civil atmosphere, some organizations include in their codes of conduct a rule that employees “assume good intent” on the part of their colleagues in any interpersonal conflicts, but Annalee Flower Horne, co-editor of the Bias, argues that these rules actually undermine diversity and inclusion by making victims of uncivil behavior into perpetrators:
The harm is that telling people to “assume good intent” is a sign that if they come to you with a concern, you will minimize their feelings, police their reactions, and question their perceptions. It tells marginalized people that you don’t see codes of conduct as tools to address systemic discrimination, but as tools to manage personal conflicts without taking power differences into account. Telling people to “assume good intent” sends a message about whose feelings you plan to center when an issue arises in your community.
To illustrate her point, Horne uses the classic example of an employee who has her foot stepped on by her co-worker as an analogy for the microaggressions women and minorities experience regularly in white- and male-dominated workplaces. In Horne’s example, “Alicia” has her foot stepped on by “Fred” and reacts by cursing at him. Fred goes to their manager and complains that because he didn’t mean to step on her foot, Alicia violated the code of conduct in not assuming good intent on his part and owes him an apology.
A code of conduct that treats Fred’s actions and Alicia’s as equally transgressive, or even holds Alicia to be more at fault, is badly misguided, Horne argues:
Psychological safety is increasingly seen as a key factor in maximizing the performance of teams: When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more capable of taking risks, communicating candidly, and thinking creatively. Drawing on the lessons Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, learned during the tech giant’s two-year study on team performance, Laura Delizonna looked at some ways managers can foster psychological safety at the Harvard Business Review last week:
1. Approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary. We humans hate losing even more than we love winning. A perceived loss triggers attempts to reestablish fairness through competition, criticism, or disengagement, which is a form of workplace-learned helplessness. Santagata knows that true success is a win-win outcome, so when conflicts come up, he avoids triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking, “How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”
2. Speak human to human. Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors. Santagata reminded his team that even in the most contentious negotiations, the other party is just like them and aims to walk away happy. …
3. Anticipate reactions and plan countermoves. “Thinking through in advance how your audience will react to your messaging helps ensure your content will be heard, versus your audience hearing an attack on their identity or ego,” explains Santagata.
Psychological safety is a topic of particular interest to diversity and inclusion professionals, as its benefits are especially important in building and managing diverse teams. In our latest research at CEB, now Gartner, we discuss why creating these spaces and having these conversations can be so hard:
In Charlotte, North Carolina, the shooting death of Keith L. Scott, a 43-year old black man, at the hands of police has led to six nights of peaceful protests so far, as well as some violent unrest. As we’ve discussed before, the issue of racial profiling and police violence in the US is no longer something organizations can ignore if they want to foster an inclusive environment for their black employees and display empathy toward these employees’ own experiences of racism.
Recent events in Charlotte and other cities have brought this issue to the fore yet again, and employers may be wondering about the right way to respond. Fortune’s Ellen McGirt talks to one expert who thinks now is a good time to test out the potential of employee resource groups as agents of change:
“We would suggest that the work that most ERGs do could be leveraged to create a space where the targeted communities and the authorities could meet and have a dialog,” [Tolanda Tolbert, PhD, Director of the Inclusive Leadership Initiative of the Catalyst Group,] says, referring to the police and aggrieved activists in Charlotte. “We could also see ERGs functioning as advisors to either side of this conversation—working as a bridge to communication,” she says.
Tolbert, who studies and consults with ERGs as part of her job, thinks they can grow into a management force for change. “For example, imagine that situation with Arizona passing discriminatory laws,” she says. “We could see an ERG telling their leadership not to have their annual conference in a location, or to stop sponsorship of an event.” To her knowledge, she says, an ERG has not yet established itself as an ambassador in this way.
The demonstrations have been concentrated in Charlotte’s “uptown” business district, and after violence broke out on Wednesday night, many businesses there instructed their employees to stay home the next day. One organization, United Way, used that communication as an opportunity to express support for the city’s diverse community and acknowledge the pain it is feeling:
The recent shooting deaths of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, at the hands of police in Louisiana and Minnesota, along with the deadly attack on Dallas police officers and civilians by a lone sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest there last Thursday night, have brought a renewed sense of urgency to the US’s national conversation about racial profiling and police violence. Much has been written on why such conversation matters in the workplace, but less has emerged on how to respond within an organization. Employers may be naturally reluctant to involve themselves in such sensitive, emotionally charged social issues, but organizational inertia certainly won’t help your employees feel supported or advance the agenda of diversity and inclusion, especially when so much dialogue is already taking place outside of the workplace. Fortune writer Ellen McGirt insists that employers need to figure out ways to talk about them with compassion and understanding toward the black employees for whom these tragedies can be deeply traumatizing:
“This isn’t a natural disaster, where everyone is aligned right away. This is difficult stuff to process,” says Alison Davis-Blake, professor of business and former dean at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “But a compassionate organization cultivates a sense of empathy for those who are suffering. And the first thing is for leaders to be present, talking, listening, and acknowledging that something specific has happened, and that some people may have concerns.”