Sometimes I find the idea of diversity as a controversial topic utterly ridiculous. The so-called controversy is mostly about people’s inability or unwillingness to deal with discomfort.
Without quoting a bunch of hard stats related to the composition of the population, the immense purchasing power of minority groups, the mélange of demographics and their impact on workforce dynamics, or the industry-leading movers and shakers who have embraced strategic diversity management – it has been proven over and over that diversity is here, and when used as a business tool, it works.
Until, of course, it doesn’t. That is where most of the problem lies. There are all sorts of examples detractors put forth to caution or throw shade on the efficacy of diversity and inclusion as a business tool – the discomfort and difficulty in workplace collaboration amidst diverse people is a popular one.
Collaboration carries a ton of weight because it’s so necessary in global business environs. But the related issues or problems associated with diversity that so many opponents like to point ready and crooked fingers at are often completely tangential.
There are problems with most new or different workforce, talent management or performance improvement strategies – especially when first implemented – because there is a learning curve. The issue is, the problems associated with diversity become the narrative for so many tales we hear. While the results and advances after the initial discomfort and learning has occurred are downplayed, reshaped and attributed to something else, or they’re not relayed at all.
Often that is a leader’s fault. Leaders have a responsibility to explore different methods with which to run their businesses effectively. Diversity is one such method.
Leaders also have a responsibility to roll with the punches when the aforementioned strategies go bad or prove more challenging than is preferable. But too many seem intimidated by the idea of dealing with that potential fall from grace; even though the rise when you – the leader – pick yourself and your workforce up – is beneficial to business, to the workforce, and if the leader is at all self-aware, to him or her as well.
Leaders have to embrace that fall.
It’s like my dad. He’s notoriously clumsy, a trait he was kind enough to pass along to many of his daughters – thanks dad. To quote a line from one of my favorite Pedro Almodóvar films Volver, “estoy fatal de los remos.” Translation, I’m very shaky on my pins, or legs. My dad has gotten so used to falling, the last time I saw him go down, he was able to roll and damn near land right back on his feet again in one movement. He’s learned to adapt to a weakness, and it prevents him from getting injured as much.
The first time I saw him do it, I burst out laughing. “That’s not funny, K,” he told me. And it wasn’t. It was shocking. It was also genius, and the strategic application of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is no different than my dad falling.
At first, it could be painful. If you’re not used to dealing with people who are different, having to engage them, listen to them, share the spotlight, the credit and the financial recognition and rewards would naturally grate. But when that same diverse group – whatever those dimensions of diversity are: race, religion, sexual orientation, age, education, experience – comes up with a product or solution that takes care of a pressing business need, knocks the competition on its ass, or saves the company a crap load of time or money, all’s forgiven, right?
Sadly, no. All might not be forgiven because the leader may be uncomfortable acknowledging that diversity, with all its associated discomfort and controversial baggage, is the reason the company is now winning. It’s like, how can this be? This thing – diversity, still a three-winged fly in too many business circles – actually worked?
That rear guard reaction takes over, the downplaying, the misdirection, or downright ignoring the truth all together. The wrong leader will miss a grand opportunity to push a diversity agenda forward and compound the benefits associated with a win into other areas of the business. Why? Because fear and the memories of the initial discomfort seem stronger, somehow, than the win itself. Comfort and the familiar beckon like a soft and clingy blanket on a cold Chicago night.
I saw a tweet today, a video clip from Kerry-Anna Mendoza, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Canary. I think she was on the BBC talking about a second Brexit referendum. But in this clip she spoke about the ridiculousness of diversity as a controversial concept. She attributed that routinely expressed notion to the lack of diversity in the British media, which she characterized as mostly male, middle class and based in London:
“The problem with that is, this narrow slice of humanity doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. It’s not about being evil or being cruel, it just simply shouldn’t be a controversial point to say that the newsrooms of the British media should look and sound like the modern Britain in which they sit.”
She’s right. She spoke in a specific context – the British media – but the idea translates easily into many other business, industry and workforce scenarios. As Micha Kaufman, CEO of Fiverr, said in “Scale Culture Alongside Growth Through Diversity,” it takes communication, transparency and education – which could mean experimentation – to reap the benefits of diversity, and to combat that negative association between diversity and controversy.
At the end of the day, diversity could be like falling down and skinning your knee. A Bandaid and a few days healing, you should recover completely. Hopefully, you’ll be a bit wiser – better able to avoid whatever tripped you up in the first place.
Or, you do like my dad does. Knowing what’s at stake, and the potential discomfort therein, you – a leader – accept that a fall might be imminent; so, you practice how best to recover quickly and ensure you – and your business – land on your feet.