whom we like and how we choose. what do we do about diversity? and How do we get there?

Diversity….what role does it play in your company? Do you think about it? I sure hope that somebody in your organization does.

Time and time again it has been proven that diverse teams perform better, innovate more, and propel companies towards great successes. But diverse teams are hard to come by, because... BIAS. People tend to cluster with others who are like them, and diversity means that we include people on the teams and invite people into our companies who are different from us. When we have diversity, it means we have different perspectives, our ideas get challenged and improved upon, new ideas get introduced. It also means that we must learn how to foster collaborative environment with others who are significantly different from us, in their style of communication, in their approach to executing demands, their attitude towards work. Change is hard, and rarely welcome; it pushes our boundaries, and sometimes we just want to be comfortable, and not be pushed and stretched. However, comfort doesn’t provide for breakthrough ideas, it doesn’t foster growth of mindset; diversity does that.

So, what do we do about diversity? How do we get there? I suggest that you start with bias, because if you don’t eliminate (or at least limit) your bias, it will eliminate your diversity.

There are two biases that people have: explicit and implicit.

Explicit is pretty easy to identify, it’s attitudes and beliefs we have towards a person or group that we are consciously aware of. We tend to be able to control this part, and we can correct course during interactions.

Implicit bias is harder, well, because it’s implicit. It refers to our beliefs, attitudes or stereotypes that affect our behavior and decisions in an unconscious manner. Whoa! When I first learned about implicit bias, it seemed as if to correct course and get rid of implicit bias would be an unsurmountable task. After all, how can you eliminate something that you don’t even realize is happening, how do you measure whether you have it or not?

Image by Rawpixel

Image by Rawpixel

The idea of implicit bias piqued my interest awhile ago. As I was researching more about it, I stumbled once upon the implicit bias test that opened my eyes to some of the biases that I had while in reality I was hoping I didn’t. I strongly encourage you to take the test at: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

I guarantee it will be eye-opening, and informative. Now, great, biases exist, but how do we eradicate them? Many companies pay steep price tags for consultants and training modules to promote diversity and remove bias, but don’t rush quite yet to follow the same path. It turns out that diversity training programs, hiring tests, and performance reviews (just some of the tools used to promote / encourage diversity within companies) show negative returns and are simply ineffective. Primary reason, when somebody tries to manage your behavior through policy, you are more likely to rebel rather than embrace the change introduced. Controlling somebody’s behavior is never as effective as voluntary change.

What does work is voluntary training, mentoring, diversity task force.

Exposure, engagement, and increased contact with diverse population is what works. Becoming a mentor to a college student with a different background than your own will be much more effective in eliminated your bias than attending a diversity training. As we engage in personal contact, and learn about each other’s stories, we tend to break down barriers that we have developed growing up. Inclusion is much more important than sheer presence of diversity, and when we personally engage with others unlike us, we learn how to include them in the process.

If you want to learn more about what diversity programs yield best results and which in fact produce negative returns, I encourage you to read HBR’s report “Why Diversity Programs Fail And what works better” by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev.

Exposure to diversity isn’t enough to break down our guard against change, although it’s a good start. Inclusion and engagement is what eliminates our internal bias, because once we start interacting with others who seem different from us on the outside, that’s when we realize that we are all human. We are all people, most of whom just try to lead happy lives and leave the world a better place for future generations. Deep down, we have quite a few things in common. I came to that realization once I started traveling the world and forming relationships with those who didn’t look like me or didn’t like the same things as I did. Over coffee or tea, over lunches or walks, you start to realize that while we have different ideas, we share the same zest for life and are driven by our passions and dreams.

Put focus in your company on diversity programs that get results, such as: voluntary training, college recruitment that targets women and minorities, mentoring, diversity task forces, and diversity managers. Diversity will increase productivity, creativity, and impact!

If you want to continue exposure and engagement with diversity to crush implicit bias, I urge you to travel, as it will put you in the position where you are in the minority. And that in turn will force you outside of your comfort zone to expose yourself to something different and embrace the change, while seeing the world.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
— Mark Twain —