Diversity is Difficult but Doable

How to be a Diversity and Inclusion Game Changer

I recently shared, on Social Media, that I would be giving a keynote speech at a large online event. Unfortunately, the best image that showcased 'yours truly' included two other white men. The optics were not great considering that I am an advocate for women's leadership and have signed a pledge to not appear on all-male panels.

There were some women and other ethnicities speaking at the conference and the panel was diverse, but not diverse enough. I called the organizer, a former mentee of mine, and he shared his frustration that he had asked many women, but they refused to speak.

I have faced this same issue before when I have organized physical and virtual events. It can lead to weird conversations like, "We are missing a Black Woman or an Asian man, and we have nobody representing LGBTQ".

In a perfect world, we would have the best person for the job, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, ableness, or sexual orientation. But it is not a perfect world and we need to address centuries of prejudice and bias. This requires us to ensure that we have not allowed unconscious stereotypes to influence our behaviors, but also for those that are underrepresented to feel safe and motivated to put up their hands and volunteer.

My research has shown that women, and especially women of color, are more likely to speak up, or be available for top jobs when:

  • They have domestic and child support (hired or from their spouse)
  • The environment is already diverse
  • They are invited by women
  • The invitation stresses their talent or story, and not that they are filling a quota
  • They have not had their self-worth destroyed by their upbringing

Inclusive  Thinking

I was once working with a CEO to help get his senior leaders to be more open to input from different perspectives, including younger employees.

“Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas”, he said.

“Wow!”, I thought. What a great mantra for diversity, inclusion, leadership, management, and just common sense.

But as Winston Churchill once remarked, “Nothing is as uncommon as common sense”.

Well, the human mind is ‘hard-wired’ to consider ideas and perspectives from our own ‘tribe’ as superior to those from outside. This human tendency leads to political partisanship, regardless of the facts, and can lead to a senior leadership team that looks the same and thinks the same. The dangers of this ‘we are right, everybody else is wrong’ mindset is obvious; especially in times of rapid change, when past ways of doing things are losing or have lost their relevancy.

If a closed mindset and ‘in-the-box-thinking’ is the default setting, what must leaders do to override this and upgrade to inclusive leadership and diversity of thought?

But before I explain how, let’s look at why.

Research by Deloitte makes a compelling case for Diversity and Inclusive leadership.

  • 17% more likely to report being a high performing team
  • 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions
  • 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively

Diversity Mindset

My diversity of thought and inclusive leadership gets tested every time I step in front of a group to facilitate or coach. It's not uncommon for me to have leaders from 8 to 10 different countries and cultures; some who won't speak up and some who can't keep quiet. Navigating a minefield of sensitivities whilst challenging perspectives is what gets my blood racing.

Surprisingly, many leaders who practice the behaviors of diversity and inclusive leadership are unaware that this is what they are doing, and those that don’t practice these behaviors are under the impression that they are inclusive. The reason is simple – mindset. Diversity and inclusion are a mindset that sees people of different genders and ‘tribes’ as all people, their differences don’t register, just their contribution.

The mindset of the non-diverse or inclusive leaders means they see nothing wrong in the following behaviors:

  • Being overpowering – not letting others speak, not inviting or other inputs or perspectives
  • Discounting – putting down, ridiculing, or ignoring any idea not generated by themselves or their ‘tribe’.
  • Obvious Bias – only a select group of people are ever given opportunities to give opinions or make decisions

So, if these narrow-minded and divisive behaviors are toxic to the growth and sustainability of a company, what mindsets and behaviors should be encouraged?

The most powerful mindset of a leader could adopt is that of humility. I don’t mean humility in the sense of making yourself less than you are, but in the sense of the true meaning of humility, which is grounded. The grounded leader knows what they are good at and knows their own weaknesses. The grounded leader is self-aware that their perspective is just a perspective and can consider alternative, even contradictory views as equally valid.

With this truly humble mindset, the inclusive leader will:

  1. Create a psychologically safe space for discussion
  2. Admit their weaknesses as well as their strengths
  3. Ask for feedback on their blind spots
  4. Actively seek out differing perspectives
  5. Be informed of cultural differences
  6. Treat people as individuals with something to offer
  7. Ensure they are making decisions on the best ideas, irrespective of where those ideas come from

Turn on the news today and you will see graphic images and hear stories of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. We witness politicians stoking fear for political gain and see the disenfranchised exercising their frustration at injustice. Meanwhile, in corporate boardrooms and executive team meetings, there is talk of the need for diversity and inclusion, and sometimes there is action. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make the changes when you are inside the box of your own unconscious bias.

If you want inspiration, that a shift of perspective is possible, I recommend the movie, Hidden Figures. Yes, diversity isn't easy, but neither is going to the moon - and we only accomplished that through diversity.

And please member that:

“Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas”

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