Diversity Makes Inclusion Harder, But Here’s What To Do About It

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Good-faith attempts to champion diversity often backfire for a pretty intuitive reason: The more an organization points out the differences among employees–even in order to celebrate them–the more likely it is that some employees will feel less included, and behave accordingly. The fact is, our brains have been fine-tuned over eons to become amazingly efficient at noticing differences. It’s not just gender or ethnicity, either. Out-groups form even when people are asked to wear red or blue T-shirts.

Couple that sensitivity to difference with the human need for fairness, and you may also get dominant groups feeling neglected. Such is the argument some white men in Silicon Valley are making–that diversity efforts amount to discrimination. Indeed, when we asked over 200 diversity and inclusion (D&I) professionals at a recent event about their biggest worry over the next five years, the top answer was backlash against their efforts.

Good-faith attempts to champion diversity often backfire for a pretty intuitive reason: The more an organization points out the differences among employees–even in order to celebrate them–the more likely it is that some employees will feel less included, and behave accordingly. The fact is, our brains have been fine-tuned over eons to become amazingly efficient at noticing differences. It’s not just gender or ethnicity, either. Out-groups form even when people are asked to wear red or blue T-shirts.

Couple that sensitivity to difference with the human need for fairness, and you may also get dominant groups feeling neglected. Such is the argument some white men in Silicon Valley are making–that diversity efforts amount to discrimination. Indeed, when we asked over 200 diversity and inclusion (D&I) professionals at a recent event about their biggest worry over the next five years, the top answer was backlash against their efforts.

MITIGATING THE RISKS, AMPLIFYING THE BENEFITS
Inclusive programs, framed in ways that promote an organization’s values and benefit everyone, can be considered “superordinate goals” that unify people across group divisions. These goals are higher-order missions shared by multiple people, with rewards bestowed on everyone involved. (Science fiction frequently employs a big, scary superordinate goal as a narrative device: the aliens come to earth, and humanity suddenly gets along.) Superordinate goals support inclusion efforts because they get people thinking in terms of others’ skills and value–not their appearance, beliefs, or status.

We’re not saying that all employee resource groups should be banned, or that programs that benefit a single group should be done away with. There are times when institutional asymmetry–much like structural inequality in the broader society–has to be addressed head-on. When people are being paid less based on gender, when a certain demographic is being hired in paltry numbers, and when promotions only go to those who fit a certain mold, there’s no substitute for direct action.

Nevertheless, we counsel our clients to understand the detrimental side effects that may follow those same, totally necessary actions. Every leader needs to be able to make important trade-offs, but charging ahead with difference-focused initiatives without understanding the risks involved won’t help an organization move in the right direction.

As we’ve studied organizations that are relatively more mature in their D&I efforts than others, one thing we’ve found is that difference-focused initiatives are more necessary in less mature cultures–the ones featuring large disparities between those in dominant and non-dominant groups. But the more diverse and inclusive a culture becomes, the more those gaps fade; before long, there aren’t seriously underrepresented groups in the organization anymore. And whenever other disparities are uncovered, they can be addressed in more targeted ways.

If you can create one large in-group, you can mitigate the risk of stereotyping and other biases. Everybody feels like they’re on the same team. And crucially, diversity and inclusion can truly reinforce one another.

Source: https://www.fastcompany.com/40559837/diversity-makes-inclusion-harder-but-heres-what-to-do-about-it

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