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.
Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, the pioneer of mindset theory, has long argued that people’s belief in inherent, unchangeable abilities and traits holds them back from personal growth and professional development. If you don’t believe you can become good at something unless you have a natural aptitude for it, her research finds, you’re unlikely to try it, much less succeed at it. In her influential book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, first published in 2006, Dweck calls this belief the “fixed mindset,” in contrast to a “growth mindset,” which believes that abilities can be developed over time through diligent work.
Recently, Dweck teamed up with her Stanford colleague Greg Walton and Yale University psychologist Paul O’Keefe on a paper that applies the same theoretical framework to passions and interests—things we are often told to find and follow, but which Dweck and her colleagues argue are developed, not discovered. In fact, Dweck and her co-authors told the Atlantic’s Olga Khazan in an article published earlier this month, the suggestion often heard by young people to find what they love to do and then do it for a living may actually be bad advice, as it discourages them from pursuing careers that don’t elicit love at first sight. In other words, it promotes the fixed mindset:
“If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought,” Walton told me. “It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”
It happens abundantly in sports, entertainment, and politics, but what about in the office? According to a recent study, the business world is also rife with trash talk and it has some interesting implications.
Jeremy Yip, a professor at Georgetown, and Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer are the authors of the study, titled “Trash-Talking: Competitive Incivility Motivates Rivalry, Performance and Unethical Behavior.” Yip shared some highlights from their findings in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton this week, noting that the CEOs of Virgin, GM, and T-Mobile have publicly jabbed at their industry opponents.
“It’s this style of aggressive communication in competition that we explore in our paper,” Yip said.
After surveying full-time office workers at Fortune 500 companies, Yip and Schwitzer found that 57 percent had experienced monthly occurrences of trash-talking. When studying the consequences of this surprisingly prominent form of incivility, they discovered that trash talk (or more specifically, being the target of trash talk) can actually have a positive effect on productivity.
“When people are the targets of these kind of messages,” Yip explained, “What we find is that they become much more motivated. They increase their effort and the performance goes up. Indeed, one key finding of our work is that targets of trash-talking become very motivated.”
This observation held even when controlling for the financial stakes:
Discussing his research in a New York Times op-ed, Yale School of Management professor Jason Dana argues that unstructured job interviews can be worse than useless, as “interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates”:
In one experiment, we had student subjects interview other students and then predict their grade point averages for the following semester. The prediction was to be based on the interview, the student’s course schedule and his or her past G.P.A. (We explained that past G.P.A. was historically the best predictor of future grades at their school.) In addition to predicting the G.P.A. of the interviewee, our subjects also predicted the performance of a student they did not meet, based only on that student’s course schedule and past G.P.A. In the end, our subjects’ G.P.A. predictions were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet. The interviews had been counterproductive.
It gets worse. Unbeknown to our subjects, we had instructed some of the interviewees to respond randomly to their questions. … Strikingly, not one interviewer reported noticing that he or she was conducting a random interview. More striking still, the students who conducted random interviews rated the degree to which they “got to know” the interviewee slightly higher on average than those who conducted honest interviews. The key psychological insight here is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative.
Geoffrey James builds on Dana’s argument at LinkedIn’s Talent Blog:
Amanda Shantz’s research focuses on how HR management practices are perceived by employees, and how those perceptions influence morale and performance. At the LSE Business Review, she presents the findings of some recent work she and her colleagues conducted to find out whether employees believed HR’s main purpose was to help them improve their performance or to save their organization money. Drawing on Fritz Heider’s attribution theory, they hypothesized that these perceptions would affect how employees felt about their jobs, and as it turned out, they were right:
At a large construction and consultancy organisation in the UK, 180 employees answered two questionnaires that were administered 12 months apart. The results of our analyses of this survey data corroborated our theory. Specifically, we found that employees who believed that their organisation’s HRM practices were designed to increase their performance were more likely to be involved in their job, leading to higher levels of wellbeing. Conversely, those who believed that HRM practices were designed to decrease costs felt burdened by their work, and had lower levels of wellbeing.
The findings of our research has direct implications for how organisations communicate the intent of the HRM practices that they administer. If employees perceive that these practices are meant to reduce costs – regardless of the actual strategic intentions – they experience increased workload and emotional exhaustion.
At CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Miami earlier this month, diversity and inclusion professionals stressed the importance of HR becoming “comfortable with being uncomfortable” as they become familiar with the concept of unconscious bias. Learning about one’s own internalized biases, which most of us would prefer to believe don’t exist, can be disquieting, but the work of overcoming those biases begins with acknowledging them and being willing to feel the discomfort that comes with taking that step.
But what if getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is about more than just implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy? What if it’s one of the organizational strengths that comes with diversity. At the Harvard Business Review, David Rock, Heidi Grant Halvorson, and Jacqui Grey make the case that diverse teams are more effective precisely because they’re less comfortable. They reference a 2009 study of fraternity and sorority members:
In the experiment, teams were asked to solve a murder mystery. First, students were individually given 20 minutes to study the clues and pinpoint the likely suspect. Next, they were placed into teams of three with fellow members from the same Greek house and given 20 minutes to discuss the case together and provide a joint answer. Five minutes into the discussion, however, they were joined by a fourth team member, someone from either their own house or another one. After collectively naming their suspect, members individually rated aspects of the discussion. More diverse groups — those joined by someone from outside their own fraternity or sorority — judged the team interactions to be less effective than did groups joined by insiders. They were also less confident in their final decisions.
The average employee spends about four hours a week getting back and forth from work. Survey data shows that for most employees, this is the most dreaded part of the work week. Cari Romm at Science of Us has a suggestion for how to make it a little more bearable: take a nap during your commute:
Step one, figure out how long your train ride takes from the moment you step on till the moment you exit. Step two, use that number to calculate what time you’ll be arriving, and set a phone alarm for a few minutes before then. Step three, stick some headphones in your ears and snooze away, unburdened by worry that you’ll miss your stop. (Note: Train riders only, for obvious reasons. Drivers, you’re still stuck with a fully conscious ride to work.)
The beauty of the commuting nap is that it takes one of the most hated ways to spend time (commuting) and replaces it with one of the most beloved (sleeping). It’s difficult to overstate just how much a long commute — especially one spent entirely awake — can negatively impact a person’s quality of life: People who suffer through it each day tend to have more stress, lower well-being, and even rockier marriages; commuting beat out house cleaning and even work itself in a survey of the most happiness-draining activities.
For those of us who commute by train or bus and can manage it, taking a nap does seem like a good idea. Estimates are that 50 to 75 million people in the US are sleep deprived, and this has real consequences: It hurts performance, lowers our emotional intelligence and makes us less effective leaders.
For the millions of us who drive to work, however, the chance to nap will continue to elude us until driverless cars come along to take us to work every day. In the meantime, as Romm also mentions, the Association for Psychological Science highlights a new study suggesting another way to get the most out of our commutes: