So much of diversity seems to be attached to a problem. Someone did something wrong, someone mistreated someone else, this data on the state of whatever is gloom, doom and oh, my gosh, when will the pain end? But that’s only a small part of the real story. The underlying truth of diversity and inclusion is actually quite hopeful and positive.
I like to think of diversity as this vast and varied canvas of untapped possibilities, and less about taking every chance there is — and unfortunately there are many — to point out what people are doing that you don’t agree with. Pointing a rude, crooked finger at what’s wrong in a situation hasn’t worked that well to effect change thus far anyway.
Under a more positive and hopeful umbrella, strategic diversity management becomes a toolbox stuffed full of different ways to promote equality, build awareness, share the wealth — whether that be via knowledge or support — and find creative new ways to tackle existing problems.
I think diversity executives would agree that the meat of what they’re trying to do in today’s global organizations is to ensure companies make the most of the talent, ideas and methods they have, and to promote acceptance within the workforce that will spread out into the marketplace to the customers we compete for. Essentially, CDOs are working to make sure that closed thinking doesn’t close the door on an opportunity. The wonderful thing about this diverse toolbox is, it’s a renewable and sustainable resource because there will always be a steady influx of new talent to choose from.
We have to be open and honest in our diversity and inclusion discussions, to be unafraid to have those potentially uncomfortable conversations, and to be receptive if there are things we need to learn, but we also have to establish diversity as a solution, not a problem.
Think of it like this. In elaborate meals where there are multiple courses, you may get something to cleanse the palate between servings. Lemon sorbet is one of my personal favorites. Diversity can be your organization’s lemon sorbet.
Most of the challenges diversity executives deal with are not related to hard-core racism, blatant sexism or brow-raising LGBT discrimination, though these things do happen. I’d wager most of the CDO’s day is spent figuring out ways to combat unconscious, more subtle forms of bias that can prevent a company from fully utilizing all of its assets: women who can add depth and nuance to a leadership bench, global employees who can point out exactly what’s needed to appeal to new market segments — the list goes on and on.
The global marketplace is big and complex, and the talent pool from which leaders draw their organization’s strength and energy is increasingly diverse. Once we understand and accept these basic tenets of business today, it’s easier to make the changes, open the minds and begin to exhibit the new behaviors that will create the inclusive environments so many companies struggle to create.
But like that lemon sorbet, which may be sweet enough and cold enough to momentarily squint up your eyes, one has to set the stage for diversity. To enjoy what comes before and what comes after, leaders have to step out and step forward to model the behaviors they want to see. Anyone can be a leader; just do what you can.
Talk to someone new. Offer someone different your help or a compliment to encourage or to bolster positive action. Send an email offering new information or an introduction to someone who can provide new information. Do what you can. If enough people adopt this kind of attitude, small behaviors can have big impact.
This blog also appears in Diversity Executive magazine online.