(by Melissa L. Schlimm)
Diversity as a mindset
You are the sum of the pieces that make you as a person consisting of your upbringing, background, and many other human differences. Gallup defines it as ‘the full spectrum of demographic differences’ and that is thanks to the opportunity to learn of different cultures and thanks to vanishing geographical borders or limitations. Consciously, ‘thanks’ is mentioned twice, because, in theory, this is what diversity is: a thankful opportunity for individuals, teams, and organizations. In practice, it is a clustering system that puts certain groups of people into certain buckets: a woman who works at an airline is a flight attendant, a man in the dentist treatment room the doctor and not the nurse or the oldest person in the room the leader. In practice, the result of diversity is an enormous variety of filter bubbles based on assumptions perceived at first sight – my son’s bestie in school is a black girl who speaks the best Swiss-German I have heard so far, having been born in Switzerland. We are completely misled if we follow these filters and these impacts can lead to discrimination. A Glassdoor study in 2019 revealed that 49% of employed adults witnessed or experienced racism/ageism/gender or LGBTQ discrimination.
In theory organizations do better if they are a diverse organization according to these following studies:
- A BCG study in 2017 showed that companies with above-average diversity score 19% better in innovations.
- A PwC study in 2017 showed that companies with D&I policies are more attractive for employees.
- A McKinsey study in 2015 showed the likelihood of financial performance of 25% above the national industry median.
How come theoretical knowledge doesn’t translate into a different practice? Because it is a mindset shift, that requires conscious reprogramming and for that to happen it is crucial to understand the different aspects of diversity.
Diversity is much more diverse, as one might consider and although it has been categorized by different thought leaders, here is a thought: have we yet considered the impact of globalization and the world moving closer together?
One way of clustering diversity is differentiating it in primary and secondary dimensions.
- Primary dimensions are innate and unchangeable such as ethnic origin, age, gender, or sexual orientation.
- Secondary dimensions are acquired or can be changed like residence, social status, family status, appearance, profession.
How this helps, is to realize that there are two dimensions to look at and the primary dimension is probably on top of the mind. The secondary dimension is not of less importance though, because the same unconscious bias applies when meeting others. People are also judged by the residential status “Why do they live in such a big house when it is only two of them”, the family status they have “What you are not married at age 41?” or the profession they hold “He works at the government and has a safe and easy life!” Diversity goes beyond who we are and straight to how people perceive us.
The above image is based on the framework of a German registered association, called the German Charta of Diversity, and its core function is to help make diversity more tangible. Let’s look at how they can get in the way at work:
If people suffer disadvantages due to their age, it is called Ageism. They are excluded from certain activities due to their age.
If people are treated less well due to their sex, it is called Gender discrimination. The result often includes the unfair distribution of resources, tasks, or responsibilities.
- Sexual orientation & Identity
If people experience downsides due to their partners or private lifestyle it builds bias and prejudice in their work environment. Exclusion from outside of work activities are one result and although not an impact at work, it has an impact on team dynamics.
- Religion & Worldview
If people are offended due to their religion or worldview and lack political correctness. This can result in an ignorant work environment where different holidays may not be acknowledged in the same way and can create an aggressive or envious business surrounding.
- Physical & mental health
If people are excluded due to health disabilities, it is called ableism. In this case, it is more challenging to do certain cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, or sensory activities or interact with the world around them.
- Ethnic origin & nationality
If people grow up in different regions of the world, they develop their cultural mindset and different language sets. This may lead to other behavior, like decision making, cooperation, agreement, and context language style.
Knowledge helps to understand diversity and translate theory into practice, but only because you know, doesn’t mean that you will act upon that knowledge differently. It needs to be managed and an open mindset supported.
Managing diversity is not a one-time project but an ongoing task-driven from the top in collaboration with HR and people managers as well as everyone’s responsibility. Their role is to keep the diversity consciousness of all members alive following the suggested five-step model.
- Managing awareness
For a vivid common mindset, the purpose and the scope of diversity management has to be shared in repeating communication measures with all relevant stakeholders. In addition, it is important to create an awareness amongst employees, that diversity is vital to the organization and therefore stakeholders who are not walking the talk of diversity need to be challenged.
- Understanding the current situation
Once everyone understands what is expected of them, it is important to see how this translates from theory to practice. For that, soft factors, such as values, require active feedback channels to give decision-makers evidence concerning the current status of diversity management.
- Adjusting strategy and goals
The strategy and the related goals should be readjusted based on current needs. Implementing diversity because it is hip, might be the wrong approach and instead a true check required as to how it fits within the activities of the organization. As an organization, do you strive to empower your women, then offer them support to rise and educate the male employees on what is expected of them.
- Realizing initiatives
Managing diversity requires mainly communication measures, including platforms for discussion and feedback. Identify role models who support diversity or are successfully integrated and allow minorities a space at the table. Acknowledge Ramadan, Diwali and Chinese New Year!
- Reviewing results
Every initiative should be reviewed to ameliorate future initiatives and find out additional needs for action.
O-pen up conversations!
A-ction plan your first step!
R-epeat and take the second step!
ROAR towards taking first steps toward a more diverse mindset and by making sure, that any realizations you might have had are discussed with people who share the same passion of yours for diversity. Talking to them and sharing what is possible and needs to be done as a progressive organization lies within everyone’s responsibility and conversations can start at any level. Making sure that these first conversations become reality is through creating a plan of action answering “What needs to be done now?” and last but not least, start all over again with new realizations that you have had on your first quest for diversity because it is an ongoing process.
To help with your realizations, you may want to ask yourself:
- What does diversity mean to us?
- How diverse are we?
- How do we deal with diversity?
- What else should we do?
Take some time to answer the questions. And if some answers seem to be complicated or lack evidence, you should start with diversity management.
In the heart of all initiatives is the mindset of all participants. Ensure common sense within the management and the staff.
The baseline for your diversity management is a shared awareness and understanding between key stakeholders. For this purpose, set-up coaching sessions to ameliorate, which allow one-on-one dialogues to answer open questions and to build a mindset for your diversity management. Roar now!