While “embracing diversity” is being promoted broadly as a sound business practice, authors of a recent article in Harvard Business Review point out that it takes more than “add diversity and stir.”
Simply employing a more diverse work force is not enough to leverage business results. They suggest that organizations need to develop a “learning-and-effectiveness paradigm” into their culture if they want diversity to really work.
The authors point out that this is a difficult task and will take concerted effort over time. Here is an overview of what is needed:
1. Create a psychologically safe workplace. Leaders need to reach out and build trust with people of all backgrounds in the organization. This takes continuous effort over time – this is not something that can be addressed through a one time “program” or initiative. It needs to be part of the leadership culture.
2. Combat systems of discrimination and subordination. The first step is learning about systems of privilege and oppression which exist in organizations and our wider culture. Fortunately, there are many books and other resources available for leaders to dive into and learn. Once we understand these systems, we need to work to change them.
3. Embrace the styles of employees from different identity groups. Rather than coaching people to be “more like” how the dominant culture tends to behave, we need to welcome other styles. People need to feel that they can be themselves at work.
4. Make cultural differences a resource for learning and improving organization effectiveness. Once these first three action items are implemented, we can open the door to actually learn with and from one another more. This creates opportunities for improved team and organization effectiveness.
While these steps are important to leverage the “business case” for diversity, the authors point out that embracing diversity and including others goes far beyond a business case. It is an ethical matter and is the right thing to do:
“Why should anyone need an economic rationale for affirming agency and dignity of any group of human beings? We should make the necessary investment because doing so honors our own humanity and gives our lives meaning.”
As the authors point out, leading these efforts is difficult and takes time. But the payoffs to our society and to one another are well worth it. Let’s get to work.