Putting Diversity And Inclusion To Work For You

If you’re wise you’ll focus on the message, not the messenger.

When I hear people talk about “political correctness” and the necessity of phrasing everything in a “politically correct” way, I want to gag. More often than not, these people are using “political correctness” as a way of subverting the truth or intimidating their opposition into silence.

Unfortunately, some people are writing off the recent emphasis on “diversity” and “inclusion” in business as nothing more than a pie-in-the-sky, goodie-two-shoe, politically correct but passing fad. I beg to differ.

To find out if something is politically-correct nonsense or a change that is here to stay, just ask yourself one question: “Does it work?” If it works, it’s not a fad. It’s an improvement in the way we used to do things and will be with us for quite some time.

And the evidence is in. Diversity and inclusion work. They pay off. As Chris Bangle, the design chief at BMW, puts it, “The key here is diversity. If our people all thought the same way, we wouldn’t have a design culture; we’d just have a mass opinion. That’s why internal competition is a fundamental premise of this organization: It gives us this dynamic exchange of viewpoints. The outcome is far more powerful than what a single person could produce.”

In essence, Bangle is saying diversity and inclusion pay off. They affect the bottom line in a positive way.

And Peter Loscher, the Chairman of the Board at Siemens AG, agrees wholeheartedly. He said, “As I took over the leadership of the company, Siemens was too white, too German and too male. From a business perspective, this is unwise for a globally active company. Today, the share of female managers has been doubled and two women have joined the Management Board. This has nothing to do with kind-heartedness. It is entirely about the best minds at Siemens forming the best teams in order to deliver the best possible work.”

Of course, to make diversity and inclusion pay off, you have to do more than simply diversify your workforce. You have to know how to work effectively in that kind of environment, whether you’re a leader or a teammate. I’ve found several things that work with my clients … things I teach in my program on “The Partnership Payoff: 7 Keys To Better Relationships And Greater Teamwork.”

1. Move up the “Inclusion Continuum.”

At the bottom of the ladder is INTOLERANCE. Stereotypes dominate our thinking … and perhaps, even our speech. People think or say such things as: “We don’t want you here … We don’t need you … and … You’re not welcome.”

It’s what I encountered when I served as the President of a church, and I was doing my best to attract newcomers to our services. When I started to invite people from a nearby trailer court, who tended to be poorer folks from another ethnic group, I was told by the church elders that “those people wouldn’t fit into our services.” The church people were so intolerant and I was so ineffective at changing their minds, that I eventually went onto another church myself.

For diversity and inclusion to start paying off, we must get past INTOLERANCE and get to TOLERANCE, at the very least. At this level, people begin to think, “I’ll put up with you. After all, I can’t do anything about you being here. But you had better ‘fit in.'” It’s not a comfortable place to stay, and it’s not a very productive place to work. Nonetheless, things are changing a little bit for the better.

When a group gets to the third level of AWARENESS, productivity begins. Even though people are still somewhat uncomfortable with the differences among their teammates, they begin to question some of their old stereotypes and assumptions. They begin to see that everyone has something to contribute … even people of another gender, race, age, political opinion, or whatever.

The payoff really kicks in during the UNDERSTANDING stage. People become more comfortable with the differences amongst their teammates, and people stop engaging in any conscious behaviors that might be offensive to someone else. More importantly, the people see that this workplace culture change is truly worth the effort.

Cedric Herring, a Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs, documents that. After reviewing study after study, Herring concluded, “Workplace diversity increases sales and profit.” More specifically, for every percentage increase in the rate of racial diversity in a company … up to the rate in the relevant population … there was an increase in sales revenue of approximately 9%. He also found that the companies that were the most gender diverse had an average of 15,000 more customers than the least diverse.

In simple terms, when your company and your people reach the stage of UNDERSTANDING, they begin to understand that diversity and inclusion make good business sense and give them a greater likelihood of job security.

Our ultimate goal, however, is to reach the VALUING stage of inclusion. It is at this point that inclusion is a “way of life.” People form genuine, authentic relationships with people who are “different.” And it is at this point that Peter Marshall, the Congressional Chaplain’s prayer becomes a reality … where he prayed, “Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.”

Chances are … your company is in one of the Inclusion Stages listed above. So that begs the question, “How do we get to the VALUING stage?” Here are a few things you need to do.

2. Encourage communication.

When management is implementing policies that will encourage and maintain a diverse workplace, some employees mistakenly think that conversations about people’s differences in religion, culture, and behavior are off limits. Not at all. Everybody benefits when they learn about the different backgrounds of their coworkers. And often times, such knowledge helps coworkers avoid accidental insults at the same time it fosters a community feeling.

I wish I would have known that the first time I taught in Thailand. To encourage class participation and to thank those who offered comments, I would toss a piece of candy to everyone who shared his or her thoughts. While the class seemed to appreciate the fact I carried the candy all the way from the United States, their reaction was a bit subdued. I didn’t understand their reaction until a student pulled me aside to say that throwing an item, such as a piece of candy, was an insult in their culture. The proper way would have been to “present” the candy to the recipient with my palms up and my head bowed.

3. Be yourself.

That’s why you were brought onto the team or into the company in the first place — to be yourself. That’s what diversity is all about.

And no one says it better than Barbara Altman, the placement director at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. She says, “To be credible, you don’t have to appear perfect. I think a person really has to play his or her strengths. You want to show what you have to offer — how or why you can be valuable to the organization. It’s true that you have to put your best foot forward and present things in a positive light, but you need to be honest, human, and not present a plastic image. You don’t want to come across as artificial or superficial.”

4. Network.

Make it a point to get out of your comfort zone to meet with and talk to people you don’t know … and people that are unlike you.

And yes, I know that’s not easy and it’s not comfortable. We all prefer to hang around PLU’s (People Like Us). But if you live and work that way in the 21st century, the competition will eat you alive.

There’s an old proverb that says it doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the answers, as long as you know the person who does. Having an extensive network of diverse contacts, both in your field and department … and in unrelated fields and departments … is critical in today’s world. Indeed, what could be more helpful or more credible than finding whatever answer you need by simply picking up the telephone?

5. Keep an open mind.

Narrow-mindedness will quickly cause you to lose others’ respect, not to mention their knowledge and potential helpfulness.

As Dr. Gerald Hartdagen, the vice president of academic affairs for the Cleveland, Ohio-based Notre Dame College, says an open mind is one of the crucial success factors in today’s global economy. Openmindedness also builds your reputation as a person who can work with many different people. He says, “You must be the kind of person who can relate to a diverse audience or you’ll be stuck forever in a low-paying, dead-end job.”

Our society is in deep trouble today because this fifth point is being largely ignored. Most of the political rhetoric is trying to close our minds by focusing on “us” versus “them,” instead of opening our minds to what “we” can all do together. As a result, we have a diverse society that is far from inclusive.

Finally, in the process of building an inclusive, diverse workplace, you will need to …

6. Solve some problems together.

It’s certainly good to hold some occasional reminder meetings, letting people know how wasteful and expensive it is when everyone in the workplace is not utilized effectively. So schedule some meetings where you talk about the importance of individual attributes and how the respect of (not necessarily agreement with) everyone’s culture, religion, and background makes the business a more pleasant place to work.

But nothing brings a group together more quickly and more tightly than solving problems together. I learned that when I worked as a counselor at a reform school a long time ago. Everyone in my group was from a different racial, ethnic, or religious background than me. They were from the inner city; I was from the small town. They were barely educated and I had a doctorate. And they didn’t even speak the same English I was used to hearing.

However, we became a formidable team when we decided to solve a problem together. And that was, “How could we help each other make the behavior changes that would result in their release from the reform school?” We met daily, discussed personal and interpersonal challenges, brainstormed solutions, and held each other accountable. All of a sudden, our differences didn’t matter. It was our common goal that mattered.

It’s like Paul Trottier’s comment. As an executive at Combined Insurance, he says, “Part of the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) philosophy advocates that when faced with a problem, you look ahead at what can be done. It’s not a Pollyannaish view that everything is wonderful. It’s a practical approach; you tackle your problems. And you become stronger as a result of resolving them.”

Everybody seems to want to know the “secret” of success. Well, one of them is certainly knowing how to work together in a diverse environment.

Action:  Seek out 3 people at work or in your life who are quite different than you in various ways. Strike up a conversation with them this week and get more acquainted with one another.