How Can We Step Up Our Diversity and Inclusion Effectiveness?

Interview with Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson

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Do you find you’re struggling to make gains in the areas of diversity and inclusion? Are your plans first class, but your outcomes a little lacking and you’re not sure what steps to take next?  While many of us know the incredible value of diversity and inclusion to our organizations, putting it into effective action can prove to be a little more difficult.

“The first step is accepting that we all have biases, and then having the curiosity to be open to what they might be, and how you can neutralize those as much as possible,” explained Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson Associate Professor of Management at the University of Colorado when we interviewed her recently.

“One reality we need to embrace when it comes to diversity and inclusion is that we’re going to make mistakes. We’re not going to be perfect,” explained Stefanie.

“It’s impossible to get it perfectly correct, because these things are always evolving and changing.  And I think if we apply that mindset to diversity and inclusion, then the goal becomes to openly share feedback with individuals, so that each conversation about diversity and inclusion – no matter how clumsy or awkward – is an opportunity for learning.”

Studies have shown that diversity and inclusion are necessary parts of a high performing business strategy, as diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee, team performance improves by up to 30% in high-diversity environments , and companies with diverse management teams enjoy nearly 20% higher revenue than those with less diverse ones.

Studies like these present a compelling case that diversity and inclusion have a direct, positive impact on organizational outcomes, and many of us would agree that it’s the right thing to do, but we often find it hard to shift our good intentions into effective action.  So while we like to think we’re good people, we need to start by recognizing that we all have work to do when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion. 

Stefanie suggests that leaders play an important role in creating a safe environment for conversations around diversity and inclusion, by encouraging different perspectives and talking with their teams about the fact that belonging is not the same as sameness – people don’t have to be the same, or agree to belong.  This means that, at times, it may feel like a group is struggling because reaching an agreement on how to move forward is not a smooth and easy process.  But having different ideas, perspectives and approaches isn’t a sign that a team is breaking.  It is an invitation for learning, co-creation and collaboration to find new ways of doing things together, and studies suggest that these teams generally perform much better. 

Here are some other ways that Stef suggested we can open up diversity and inclusion in our teams and workplaces:

  • Intentionally bring different voices to a discussion When people feel safe, sharing different perspectives or disagreeing doesn’t feel as threatening.  For example, one way a meeting lead can intentionally bring different voices to a discussion is to send questions and gather responses in advance so that the meeting discussion can be curated.  Doing this creates space in the meeting to understand where differences in perspective are, and creates more equality between gender, people of color, younger employees with less experience who don’t feel they can speak up and even introverts who value thinking things through before talking about them.
  • Peer-to-peer recognition – Research suggests that coworker recognition has more positive benefits than leadership recognition.  So if your supervisor or manager isn’t someone who tends to give a lot of positive feedback or recognition, you can start to create a new group norm by calling out someone who did a great job or went above and beyond.  By doing this regularly and encouraging others to do the same, it will become hard for a leader not to join in as it’s a basic human need to want to belong.
  • Experiment with blind recruitment To test out any potential unconscious bias, try de-personalizing applications in your recruitment processes.  Is there any difference in the types of candidates that are put forward?  For internal promotions, could you include metrics such as highest sales figures or best 360-degree reviews to identify talent in the organization that you might otherwise have missed?

How can you amplify a different voice or perspective in your next meeting? To discover more evidence-based practices to help people thrive at work, check out the Making Positive Psychology Work Podcast.

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