Diversity landscape is broad and it strokes wider. D&I is a double-edged sword if done well will unleash tremendous growth potential and if overdone will create internal fractions.
“Diversity is about being invited to the party and Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
The colours of the rainbow are said to be VIBGYOR-violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Like each colour of the rainbow, each fraction of the workforce brings its own exuberance and vibrancy to the organization. No wonder that leads to, a curiosity about the big debate on Diversity & Inclusion.
It remains a choice on the swaying continuum of whether it is a matter of strategy or common sense; a matter of tough decision or smart decision; a matter of must have or nice to have; a matter of executive leadership’s action or every manager’s action item; a matter of willingness or a dictate?
Interestingly whilst the organizations are busy, unveiling for itself, what it means for them a strategy or a common sense, the ‘diversity’ phenomena, on the other hand, is reaching a point, where the diverse mass is inching its way “in” to ensure that it gets included. Given the way, the wave is building up, whilst it presents itself to be a choice today, however, very soon that choice too will be off the table. Smart organizations will ride this wave before it hits the shore, leverage the advantage ahead of time, for very soon, that avenue of differentiation too will not be available.
Diversity and Inclusion when adopted willingly by the organizations is like a breath of fresh air that oxygenates every cell of the organization, breathes fresh life into the same regular day to day mundane work, creates an atmosphere of joy every time D&I give birth to creativity, gives new meaning to collaboration, conquers markets and more…. In fact for a group of people who value, understand and demonstrate the true spirit of D&I, healthy manifestation of collaborative behaviours is natural.
Diversity landscape is broad and it strokes wider. Diversity today means so many things to so many people – it’s about Women Empowerment, about Millennials, about Gen Xers, Boomers, and much more. It’s a landscape where one fraction of the workforce may talk about exalting the “experience” that exists in the company, the other would talk about challenging the status-quo, yet another about fair representation, some about parity, and some more about equal opportunity for all, so on and so forth. Personally what struck a note with me was a statement from an HBR article that said Diversity is about being invited to the party and Inclusion is being asked to dance. Diversity and Inclusion are two very distinct steps and both these steps need to come to play for the organization to enjoy the fruits of its presence.
Organizations have been dealt the “D&I” winning card on a platter to create a rainbow of success and yet it’s not taking off at the desired pace. What’s even more alarming is that it is evolving into a fancy “Quota” system, wherein x%age of representation is considered either healthy or unhealthy depending on which side of the spectrum they are at? Who knew such a powerful tool will get reduced to a number or a percentage on PPT; a car that carries the potential of a Ferrari is being driven like a Maruti 800.
“Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers.”
– Josh Bersin
So what will make these numbers and percentages jump out of the PPT and into the work life of the organizations given that it has the potential to help the business attain better results, brand & positioning, develop an edge and a differentiation, excel on stakeholder parameters, disrupt existing markets and create new ones for the business.
The instant answer that comes to mind is
“the day it’s in the will of every leader across levels to go beyond their fears, insecurities and territorial behavior, when they are willing to explore the unknown waters of Diversity & Inclusion; the day they start enjoying being challenged and not see it as usurping of their authority; the day they are willing to learn and unlearn; the day they do not make it a battle of wits, will be the day when diversity will attain its true meaning.”
Inclusion today is a big challenge; many times to create an impression of inclusion the leaders will invite ‘people’ to a party but then nobody will ask them for a dance. The invitation is a half-baked invitation. Organizations many times lose brilliant talent because these people standing on the sideline, tapping their feet to the rhythm, brimming with right moves, itching to get onto the dance floor are not allowed to. The result, they move on to companies that provide access to the most coveted dance floor. Each organization’s beliefs, values, policies, the maturity of the leadership, its mission and vision, the quality of the environment of social agreements within the organization either provide access to the dance floor or keeps it off-limits.
“The day it’s in the will of every leader across levels to go beyond their fears, insecurities and territorial behavior, when they are willing to explore the unknown waters of Diversity & Inclusion; the day they start enjoying being challenged and not see it as usurping of their authority; the day they are willing to learn and unlearn; the day they do not make it a battle of wits, will be the day when diversity will attain its true meaning.”
Every leader who finds Diversity and Inclusion a challenge, the infamous glass ceiling appears not only for him/her but also for those who are reporting to him/her. Few questions that diversity and inclusion managers need to ask themselves are-
- Given that it’s an inside-out expression vs. the outside in approach what tweaks are needed, to promote D&I as a value within the organization.
- What support system/ learning opportunities/ exposure can be provided to the leaders to help develop D&I as a virtue?
- What kind of an organization are we building through the approach adopted? Is it a merit-based organization or promotion of Quota System? Is it building a hierarchical authority driven organization or a flat empowered organization?
- How do we know we are on the right track; what lead indicators should we look for that reflects the presence of a healthy D&I?
- What mechanisms are we putting in place to spot the bottlenecks? Are we as an organization serious about either coaching/ mentoring or worst case penalizing a leader at the highest levels if need be, if they themselves are these blocks?
Questions for a D&I Manager
- What support does the leader need to develop D&I as a virtue?
- What kind of an organization do we want to build?
- What are the tweaks needed?
- What are the lead indicators to assess, if we are on the right track?
- What are the roadblocks and how do we resolve these?
Today the D&I strategy adopted by companies falls into 3 categories
They would like to be seen as one and therefore get the necessary cosmetic surgery done, come up with random initiatives, run it in a cyclic fashion, make the right presentations, touch minuscule population and convert those into an elite population, which by definition of D&I is against the very essence of what it stands for and no surprise the results are meagre.
They want to bring in and foster the culture of D&I within the organization, are extremely sincere, will be there for every conference on D&I and yet somehow fostering a culture that promotes D&I eludes them. They struggle, in some cases, not knowing how to start and how to sustain. It takes the form of going through multiple alleys and lanes of D&I and yet not hitting the desired sweet spot.
They want their company’s beliefs to be translated into their everyday actions. The true litmus test is a manifestation of D&I in their transactions, interactions, and dialogue. These are the companies that execute both the steps of D&I – Invite them to the party and ask them for a dance. It is not an altruistic but a very clear business move with a specific objective to draw the competitive and strategic advantage that it provides. Most importantly they understand that this is an ongoing journey and the initiative from time to time will go through its own metamorphosis to ensure it stays relevant.
D&I is a double-edged sword if done well will unleash tremendous growth potential and if overdone will create internal fractions that instead of fuelling the growth momentum may instead slow it down. The analogy that comes to my mind is the workout that we put our bodies through to stay fit. Each body is unique and needs its own diet and work out regime; similarly, each organization is unique and needs to work out its own unique D&I strategy that is best suited for them.