A Beginner's Guide to Diversity and Inclusivity

February 3, 2017

Defining Diversity and Inclusivity

First, let’s get our terminology straight. Diversity initiatives are about getting the desired mix of people in the room. Inclusivity initiatives are about how to keep them there. Diversity efforts can be led by a single department, like human resources, or can be happen at key moments like hiring and committee/team assignment. Inclusivity works best when everyone adopts an inclusive mindset and thinks with that mindset all the time. Companies are not always able to change the people in the room, but they can always be working to make sure everyone’s contributions are welcomed, recognized, and justly rewarded (or punished).

Inclusivity may be a new term, but many of the underlying concepts are not new at all. All social groups, including companies, are constantly faced with the challenge of establishing a context in which there is not only justice, but also mutual inspiration, support, and that center of gravity that makes members want to be part of this group and not some other group.

Inclusive Workplaces Are a Multiplier for Collective Intelligence

Being in a truly inclusive, open-minded, bring-your-greatest-and-wildest ideas group is an intellectual multiplier and a thrilling creative motivator. Likewise, being chilled out of contributing due to fear of ridicule, misunderstanding, open antagonism, or exposure to sniping gossip is the pits.

When it comes to diversity and inclusivity, there can be a tendency to think that groups need to do something about diversity, about getting different people in the room, before they worry about inclusivity. Get the “diverse” people in the door and then worry about being good to them. That’s not so. There are already plenty of diverse people in your group…unless you have a group of one, and even then I think there have been times when you couldn’t agree with yourself about what to order on seamless. (Please don’t troll me for having a tiny sense of humor about a very serious topic.)

In short, there are many ideas and viewpoints within existing groups that are rarely introduced no matter how homogeneous they may appear according to the way the conversation about inclusivity and diversity may teach us to think. Within a group of white men there are many opinions. Within a group of women, same is also true. Age cohorts may share some background because they lived through similar social change, but they may not have adopted the same response to those changes. Not all [fill in the blank] ever agree completely or would choose to interact in the same ways. Inclusive workplaces and groups are those that find a way for their individual members to do their best work, express ideas respectfully and often, and enjoy pitching in somehow to motivate others.

Getting good at thinking inclusively yields benefits even if your group hasn’t bothered to outline diversity goals let alone taken steps to achieve them. If you are hoping to launch a conversation about establishing diversity goals, it might be useful to start by instituting practices that are more inclusive, that invite a broader range of people to the table, and welcome all respectful ideas to the conversation.

Inclusivity initiatives aim to establish connections that bring the best possible mix of thoughts and approaches without shaming, silencing, or otherwise shutting down avenues to discover what it is that makes the groups we are in uniquely invigorating.

Inclusivity is sounding so nice, right? Maybe too nice? Maybe sugar-coated idealism nice?

I know that diversity and inclusivity initiatives also present unpopular, divisive trade-offs. It’s not always nice. Usually only one person can be hired and that might mean selecting someone who went to a less highly ranked school over someone who may sub-consciously (or overtly) appear to be a safer bet because they went to MIT, Harvard, Stanford, etc. Someone in the workplace wants a lactation room? Well, that might mean two people have to share an office who wouldn’t otherwise have had to do that. These are uncomfortable situations. There are effective ways to address them. It helps immensely if the people involved know each other well enough to have a stake in one another’s success.

This is the first in a series that will include honestly considered, tested strategies for:

  1. Better work socializing (Less drinking, more thinking?)
  2. Inclusive recruiting and on-boarding
  3. Reconsidering sexual harassment policies. Getting beyond cover-ups, winner-take-all binaries, and blaming the victims*

As the head of our new Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force in the Moore-Sloan Data Science Environment, there will be more to come after those three. Stay tuned and send requests.

*I have been thinking about the sexual harassment topic for years and have never been brave enough to write about it in public. Readers, hearing some curiosity or interest from you may give me crowd-sourced courage.

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