by Shayne Thomas
12 Jun 2020
Your Business Is Not As Diverse As You Think
Diversity is a relative term for many organizations today
Perception is reality, right? Not so fast.
If you’ve been paying any attention to what’s happening in the U.S. right now—and the rallying cry to end systemic racism that’s quickly creating ripples around the world—you’d see that current perceptions around diversity are far from reality.
Over the last 10 years or so, we’ve heard the words “diversity” and “inclusion” increasingly pop up in workplace conversations. Oftentimes in the same sentence, so much that many people mistakenly use them interchangeably.
Let’s be clear: diversity is not the same as inclusion—and inclusion is certainly not the same as diversity. One speaks to the physical makeup of an organization while the other speaks to how well organizations—and their employees, from the top all the way down—truly embrace, support, and integrate diversity and diversity-driven thinking into their day-to-day actions.
Unfortunately, as these words get thrown around more and more in a marketing jargon-esque way in the workplace, they’ve also started to lose their relative value, meaning, and impact.
Recent research suggests that 79% of HR professionals believe their organizations are diverse. But what does that truly mean? Is it a question of race? Age? Ethnicity? Gender? Sexual orientation? Experience? There are a lot of ways to slice and dice this.
The truth is, what might seem “diverse” for one company might actually not be all that diverse at all for another company. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which are completely out of a company’s control in spite of every effort to recruit, hire, and develop diverse talent.
But just because you may know that one person at work who is the “poster child” for an underrepresented minority group or because you see only one woman on a company’s executive team doesn’t mean that your company as a whole is diverse in the broader sense of the term. It’s just one person and one minority group being represented in both cases.
The presence of that one person can skew your perception in a big way. But everyone else who spends the bulk of their days working alongside people who look, more or less, like themselves, perceptions can skew in a totally different direction.
The point here is simple: diversity is a relative term, and how it’s used in an all-encompassing way to define the make-up of an organization’s workforce is pretty much on a sliding scale. There is no true baseline measure for diversity, even though it makes a great sound-byte.
Is your perception of workplace diversity inflated?
The easy answer is: probably.
Although 57% of HR professionals have also said that their companies have become more diverse in the past year—and 74% are committed to increasing workplace diversity in the coming year—this doesn’t necessarily mean this application of diversity has been uniform across all imaginable diversity segments. For example, 20% of HR professionals would prefer to tackle “Women in Leadership” initiatives versus 14% who would like to focus on “LGBTQ Awareness and Sensitivity.” This is a perfect example of the imbalance that exists.
Fortunately, because this imbalance exists, it means there’s a lot of room to grow. Here are a few things that companies can do immediately to move their diversity and inclusion efforts in a positive direction:
1. Make diversity and inclusion a top strategic priority
Deloitte identified six traits that define truly inclusive leadership: commitment, courage, cognizance, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration. The leaders who exhibit these traits “not only embrace individual differences but [can] potentially leverage them for competitive advantage.”
Unfortunately, not all leaders naturally embody these traits. In fact, many must learn and even re-learn them over time. It’s an endless education that constantly evolves. That’s why it’s so important for HR teams to support the growth and development of inclusive leadership within organizations by offering relevant training and learning to employees at all levels.
It’s one thing to say that diversity and inclusion is a strategic company priority. It’s another thing to put systems in place that foster real diversity and inclusion across your entire workforce. Truth be told, diversity is a state of mind. It’s much more than simple metrics about your workforce or identifying tactics for meeting pre-determined quotas. All of that is artificial and cannot just be something that’s reported on from the top down. Every employee in a company needs to embrace the true spirit of diversity and inclusion, otherwise, it’s just a lot of talk.
2. Work to eliminate unconscious bias
Unconscious bias exists. Our biases stem from our upbringing, our surroundings, our experiences, our education, and so on. Many of us don’t even realize what kind of unconscious biases we have deep within us. It’s that ingrained into our psyche.
For the workplace to truly be diverse, unconscious bias can’t exist. This means straying away from System 1 thinking—“the fast, intuitive reactions and instantaneous decisions that govern most of our lives”—and, instead, leaning into System 2 thinking—“the deliberate type of thinking involved in focus, deliberation, reasoning, or analysis.”
In other words, it’s the difference between succumbing to your knee-jerk reactions and being thoughtful and considerate in your responses to different situations.
The challenge here is that many of us have been taught to “think fast” and to “trust our gut.” While this certainly can be a benefit in many situations, it is what fuels unconscious bias. In the context of diversity, it can be a real sticking point.
As a starting point, offering unconscious bias training is absolutely critical. But if you want your organization to embrace diversity with open arms, this needs to go beyond a single training session. Teaching employees to be mindful of the differences between System 1 and System 2 thinking must be reinforced through learning and development.
3. Talk about diversity openly
Too often we’ve referred to issues of diversity and inclusion as the “elephant in the room.” After all, conversations about race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and beyond can be very sensitive and highly charged depending on who you talk to and what you’re saying.
What’s happening in the world now is a unique inflection point. The taboo of talking about race has suddenly gone by the wayside. Now everyone—and every business—is joining the conversation about systemic racism. This is a great first step.
But these conversations about diversity shouldn’t happen in a single moment in time or simply get put on the back burner when people go home. There needs to be follow up to keep companies, leaders, HR teams, and employees accountable at all times.
And while race is the diversity topic du jour that is now out in the open for everyone to participate in, the buck shouldn’t stop there. Let’s be open to talking about all aspects of diversity. Because talking about it, and in doing so, removing the taboos associated with it, is the best way to create a ripple effect that changes the hearts and minds of employees around different diversity-related topics.
It might be easy to talk about race right now because the floodgates are open. But what about issues related to the LGBGTQ+ community? Or what about ageism in the workplace? These are important conversations to have as well. Whatever you do, don’t just talk about it; take action on it and hold your teams accountable for making positive change.
Cornerstone is dedicated to diversity
There is no question that the world is going through a challenging time right now. There is a lot of pain swirling around, and it will certainly take some time for the world to heal.
This is why we believe in not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk. For us, this permeates every part of our company, from our senior leaders all the way down. But that doesn’t mean we’re perfect either. All companies face their own unique challenges and have room to improve and grow—especially at times like this when tensions are at an all-time high.
To learn more about what Cornerstone is doing for our community, our customers, and our employees during this transformative moment in human history, please take a moment to read this open letter on race and bias from our CEO, Adam Miller.
We are making a commitment to join this movement and spark meaningful and much needed change. We look forward to working with you to create a more diverse and inclusive future.