Is Your Organization
Diverse or Adverse?
By R.S. Basi
way to relegate your organization or your career to mediocrity is to
pursue goals without truly understanding either the goal or your
means to achieve them. This is particularly true of diversity
efforts, which have the power to create unintended consequences,
like alienation, by focusing on differences rather than
a peer was hired by a Fortune 500 Company with a robust diversity
recruitment program. She was impressed by the numerous awards and
accolades the company had earned but, soon after being hired,
learned that new employees were so indoctrinated with rigid
parameters that the ability to be different was stifled beyond
rescue. Diversity of thought was mildly encouraged, but only within
the parameters of the “Company Way.” As a Human Resources
professional, she found the irony of the situation maddening and,
without the ability to pierce the bureaucracy, left and found a
better fit with a smaller company that allowed her greater freedom
to promote diversity and change.
business case for diversity centers on the benefits of
multi-perspective thinking. We encourage the inclusion of people
with different backgrounds or experience because doing so allows an
organization to understand problems from different angles. In
theory, this affords a more thorough analysis of any issue, even if
it complicates the decision by lengthening the process. In order
for this to work, however, the voices of diversity must be heard.
This means that simply giving different people a seat at the table
is not enough. Instead, it means encouraging input and, indeed,
leadership among divergent and even contrarian thinkers. This might
be uncomfortable, but even small steps towards these goals can
reduce polarization and enhance inclusiveness efforts.
Respect and integrity in business and social interaction are
important not only for inclusiveness, but to external stakeholders.
No matter how far you delve into contrarian thought and action, it’s
important to adhere to your organization’s values and principles in
your experiments with diversity. News travels at lightning speed
and your personal and organizational reputation is crucial to
retaining and motivating employees. Having and respecting your
organization’s values is not a limitation, but an advantage. It
allows you to anchor your explorations and maintain your unique
input in unlikely places.
Sometimes the best leader is the reluctant one. For cultural or
personal reasons, some people might be timid about sharing
opinions. They may be embarrassed or unaccustomed to being
provided a role other than listener, or order-taker in a particular
forum. They may have a different way of doing things than your more
vocal team-members. Find a forum for capturing their thoughts.
E-mails, smaller or more focused group brainstorming sessions, or
even methods of anonymous contribution might be in order.
A different style or mannerism can often affect the perceived value
of a person’s contribution. This can be a fatal mistake. After all,
you’ve sought out diversity: now leverage it to discover where it
provides value. A fashion mistake or disrespecting a social
tradition by, for instance, wearing jeans where senior management
will be wandering, doesn’t reflect an inability to think
critically. Look past the obvious rituals and abandon personal
biases to focus on what really matters. Don’t let different mean
wrong and don’t let people be anything but willing to share
thoughts. Explore instead of dismissing. At worst, it will bolster
confidence in your position. Ideally, it will improve the thought
processes of your entire team.
Make championing an idea as easy and natural as commuting to work.
When a good idea is explored, encourage its owner to help it
evolve. This is critical, for it creates ownership and investment
in everyone along the path to fruition, no matter what the finished
product looks like.
Great ideas, discoveries, and revolutions are built upon
predecessors. Share information and allow it to catalyze further
innovation. This is the great advantage of our modern world- the
ability to find and share information on almost any subject. Your
organization’s progress should capitalize on the ease of information
Introspection is often forced upon us (as it is now by a slow
economy). Take this opportunity to analyze your current
organization and, if you dare, permit yourself and your peers some
discomfort. You may find that simple ways to utilize your diverse
workforce and leverage the multiplicity of thought inherent in
heterogeneity can help you create a legacy of excellence.
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