A year ago, nearly every day, I was getting an email from a company stating their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Fast forward to today and I fear those statements were more of a fad than a commitment to real results.
According to a report by McKinsey & Company, nine out of ten CEOs say diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) remains a moderate to top priority, but they report challenges in implementing their DEI strategies. The result is only one in six diverse employees feel more supported now. The priority seems to be more talk with little results, which we have a long history of doing.
One of the biggest obstacles is that leaders underestimate the hard work such a commitment takes. They often believe that hiring a Chief Diversity Officer is a significant enough step. However, it’s not enough, which has resulted in that role having high turnover because companies don’t allocate the necessary resources but also have unrealistic expectations.
This is the crux of the issue – leaders cannot delegate or outsource diversity and inclusion work. If leaders are serious about making change, then the leader (each leader in an organization, not just the CEO) must do their own personal work and model it for others. It will take everyone working to attain individual and organizational goals.
Why care about diversity and inclusion?
If you’re white, you might be secretly wondering what diversity has to do with you. You may not actually voice it, knowing it’s not politically correct. If you thought it though, you wouldn’t be alone. You’re busy, you have a lot on your plate, and while you know deep down it’s the right thing to do, you don’t have time to save the world. Besides, you’re a good person, right?
This is where the fallacy begins, and one reason leaders aren’t truly committed to doing their own work as well.
- You don’t have to be an overt racist to support a racist system.
- If you don’t see how you support the system, and think being a nice white person is enough to not be a part of the racist system, then you are a part of the system.
But why is it important? Let’s be pragmatic for a moment. Beside it being the right thing, and by that, I mean the human thing to do, diverse workplaces lead to an increase in sales and profits. It’s not only the right thing, but the financially smart thing to do.
Need more reasons, here is a list of ways diversity can benefit you directly.
Another compelling reason is that we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. This means, as Albert Einstein once put it, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Diversity is a way to fast track an upgrade of our way of thinking. It’s how we will solve the complex and difficult problems this world faces, be it climate change, another global pandemic, or any other complex problem we will likely experience. This past year alone has shown the positive impact diverse minds working together to solve a big issue can have by developing a vaccine in record time to curb a pandemic that could have crushed us all.
Yes, having a diverse group of minds can even help you solve issues in your own business.
If you think you’re not part of the problem, think again.
Another reason the work of diversity and inclusion is hard, is because it’s difficult to see the world through someone else’s experience.
If you have privilege, you don’t see it. It takes a lot of looking and listening really hard to those that don’t have it, to start to see it and it’s still hard to see it entirely. If you’re like me, you may understand it exists, but you don’t know what it ‘feels’ like to be in someone else’s skin.
The system works because you have an implicit bias and you don’t know it, which creates a ‘blindness’ to your biases. Your brain makes decisions without your awareness. You want to believe that you are logical, and you treat people fairly. The truth is, there are lots and lots of studies that say this is completely false. You favor people that look like you and act like you. Your brain prefers things that are familiar. Unfortunately, that also includes skin color.
If you think you don’t have implicit bias, test it out here. The best way to not succumb to these implicit biases is to become aware of them and to take action to prevent them from clouding your decision-making.
The System can change if we all lean in.
Let’s not allow diversity and inclusion be a fad. It takes more than corporations jumping on the bandwagon shortly after protests in the streets, forcing them to take a stand. It will take much more than a revised corporate statement and hiring a Chief Diversity Officer.
It’s not a ‘black or brown’ person’s issue, the same way gender equality is not a woman’s issue (if you think it is, let’s talk). It’s all our work to do. It will take individuals doing their own personal work before true inclusion can take place. White privilege also means getting to ‘lean out’ and thinking you do not need to participate in solving the issues facing others in your community.
No one can force you into doing this deep and personal work; it’s a choice. It’s a choice about what’s important to you, who you want to be, and what kind of world you want to live in. I want to be clear, however: diversity and inclusion programs won’t work unless each person, especially leaders that make commitments, do their own work to truly understand where the bias might lay.
Improving your emotional intelligence (EQ) is the first step to building your self-awareness so you can recognize your conscious and unconscious biases. Once aware of your biases, you can change, thus reducing the negative impact.
According to David Cory, founder of the Emotional Intelligence Training Company, here are some ways strengthening your EQ competencies can improve your bias awareness and interaction with others.
- Assertiveness helps you speak up and engage in dialogue with others regarding their conscious and potential unconscious biases.
- Independence assists you to be less affected by conformity bias and allows you to act more consistently with your own opinions, values and thoughts.
- Empathy helps you tune in to the feelings of others and to better understand how your behavior may impact them. When you’re attuned to how you impact others, you become more motivated to recognize and minimize the effects of unconscious bias.
- Problem Solving includes emotions with cognition so you’re in a better position to be aware of how our inclination to conform with the opinions of others, the desire for affinity with others, or the risk of allowing attribution errors affect our decisions.
- Reality Testing is the main EQ competency required in confronting our unconscious biases. By testing your perceptions of reality with others, looking for evidence, and attempting to diversify the information and messages you receive creates a more realistic reality.
- Impulse Control, or the ability to manage your first thoughts or actions, helps to avoid reliance on stereotypes and quick decisions. Applying EQ competencies, taking your time, putting in the effort to consider the information, facts and impacts on others can reduce or minimize the effects of bias created by first impulses.
- Flexibility is an important skill that helps you consider a number of alternative approaches and options rather than relying on your usual or typical methods. Flexibility allows you to embrace other perspectives and approaches and ensures that you reach the best decision.
If you aren’t sure where your emotional intelligence is today, you can take the EQ-i. It’s the first scientifically validated assessment of emotional intelligence by the AMA. The EQ-i assesses your strengths and identifies areas for potential growth. If you’re interested in having an assessment and comprehensive debrief, I’m a certified emotional intelligence coach and can facilitate this.
Regardless of how you decide to engage in this important work, please do. We all deserve a world where everyone’s voice is heard and considered. If you want a partner in getting started, I’m here for you.