Join the Executive Coaching Conversation

Have We Framed up Diversity the Wrong Way for the Last 30 Years? By Suzanne Elshult/Your Executive Coach, HRNow

hryaknobubble1Research from McKinsey, Deloitte Bersin, and Catalyst all show that diversity leads to better outcomes. If that is the case, why is HR still struggling more than 30 years after the inception of diversity work to make a case to senior executives? Can you think of another business problem that companies have continued to stumble over for so long? Diversity is most often framed in regulatory (EEOC/OFCCP) and protected class terms. Maybe the powerful question we should ask is – Have we framed up diversity in the wrong way for the last 30 years?

This is the question a couple of dozen of our HR Executive Forum member executives engaged in at a session last week. While we admittedly did not get an unequivocal answer to our question, the discussion did help us all better understand the context of diversity in today’s HR discussions.

I walked away with a few insights:

  1. Diversity is still a huge issue. We need to do a better job of stepping up and figuring out how to address it better. Each organization has it’s own unique context and needs to make it’s own business case and define diversity in terms that makes sense.
  2. Cognitive diversity as defined by Economist and Complex Systems Theorist Scott Page is the most recent flavor of diversity. It is focused on differences in the way you think, rather than identity diversity. Scott shows that cognitive diversity leads to better prediction and better problem solving (see the Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies). The current priority placed on speed of decisions in organizations, particularly in high tech industry, poses challenge for cognitive diversity which involves engaging and processing different perspectives to improve the problem solving process and quality of outcomes. There was consensus that cognitive diversity show a lot of promise, but processing different perspectives takes time and is a “messy proposition” that requires excellent influential skills on the part of HR executives to get buy in from organizational leaders that are under pressure to move faster and faster.
  3. We all have unique challenges in our organizations and industries. There is not just one answer and approaching the challenge from a traditional perspective does not need to exclude new, fresher approaches such as “cognitive diversity” and “bringing “all of the person” to work. We had some interesting discussion around tattoosJ
  4. Everybody wants to do this well A        ND there are some real differences in opinion around how to do it. We need to create safe environments to have the “conversation,” removebarriers and fear of differences and figure out how to build trust.
  5. Senior executives have to lead and be purposeful in how they frame the issues. They have to be self-aware and understand the importance of balancing being totally authentic and understanding their role as the CEO and how what they say will impact different audiences differently.
  6. In many organizations diversity is still defined in a very traditional context of compliance. Diversity programs are basically “bolt-ons.” The question for those companies is how they build on the awareness that has evolved and go beyond in our current context of defining diversity much more broadly.
  7. It is unclear what exactly we are talking about. Have we diffused the concept of diversity to the point of losing it’s meaning? Has diversity become so broad it means nothing?

Here are some of my favorite quotes from this session:

  • There is more diversity in the hallways than we think.
  • You have no idea how wonderful it is to be able to bring ALL of me to work!
  • Does the technology industry really want diversity or just more people that think like us?
  • How do we get our executives to buy that yes it will be messy AND it will bring better results.
  • We don’t teach our kids courage and conviction!
  • “How are you?” is not a real question in the US (as articulated by a Frenchman).
  • If we can learn how to harness the power of diversity and inclusiveness, we will all excel and outpace the market
  • Reality: if you don’t get to the neighborhoods, they will not want to come to your company.


Reactions? Comments?


The comments are closed