We’ve achieved diversity in the workplace. Now what?

What good is diversity without inclusion?

JOHNNY C. TAYLOR: Our country is as diverse as it's ever been. But it's also as divided as it's ever been. There was a time when we were really talking about male, female, black, white in America. That was it. And now we've added all of these additional dimensions of diversity. We are now realizing that diversity is not the holy grail. We thought that once you achieved diversity, you've made it happen. And the reality now is that inclusion is the real holy grail. So here we are, with a country where we have achieved diversity. And we have a whole other set of issues. And that is when you bring all of these diverse people together, you realize that it's hard to manage diversity. And that's where inclusion comes in and making sure that you get the most out of this diversity. So diversity can be great net, net. It can also have some major disadvantages if not properly managed.
If you talk to people who are 40 and older, it's is this really about quotas? Is this really about affirmative action? It's a very compliance-oriented conversation. And it's always like, is this just to keep the company out of trouble? When you get into the younger generations, so 40 and younger, and that includes some Generation Xes, and then you go into the Millennials and even now, the Generation Z, the Z Generation, they understand the other value to diversity. And they want to understand how a company can tie diversity to its competitive environment. What's the competitive advantage of diversity? So they're not as much interested in the compliance side of it. They want you to be able to make a case to them that diversity shouldn't matter to them, by the way, whether or not they are black or white or male or female, et cetera, but why does diversity matter? And therefore it will help them understand why the company's so invested in it.
By the way, I just was asked this recently. And it was a cold hit. But I was at a conference. And they said, can you tell us who does D&I well? And I said, candidly, no. I don't know of a company that does it well. Some are good and are trying to get good. But by and large, doing this well has evaded us all.
What I can tell you is generally what we're seeing organizations do is one, begin to identify the focus on unconscious bias and that all of us have them. So this is not just a white male problem. It is everyone's problem. We all bring our biases into the workplace. If it's a bias against someone who's overweight, if it's a bias against someone who is not born in the US, we all have them. Black people have biases as well. And so what I've learned and seen is that organizations who spend their time explaining to everyone that they have skin in this game and that they themselves can benefit from diversity training are doing well. The second thing that we're seeing from the companies that actually get it, spend more time focusing on commonalities than differences.
One of the earliest challenges that I predicted would come out of this diversity focus, and we're talking two, three decades ago, was we started talking about embracing our differences, tolerating our differences. And it was such a maniacal focus, almost maniacal, on differences, valuing our differences. And the fact of the matter is that's sort of counter to how the human experience actually works.
If I walk into a room full of people who are by definition different from me, the first thing I do is I begin trying to find what we have in common. So I ask you, where did you go to college? Where'd you grow up? Tell me this.
What I'm trying to do is to find our commonality. Once we can find those things that we have in common, we'll get to know more about our differences. But it has to be rooted in our commonality. Diversity and most of the early sort of diversity strategies really focused on our differences. And I think we've learned, the companies that are doing this better now understand that start with our commonalities so that we can ultimately respect our differences.

  • Striving for more diversity (in all its forms) is good, but it's what you do with and for those new voices that can change the landscape of a company. Why does diversity matter and how does it factor into the competitive environment?
  • Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), says that inclusion is the "real holy grail" in terms of making the most of diversity.
  • Diversity strategies have evolved over time to focus more on commonality. Taylor says that by starting with what people have in common, we can learn to respect each other's differences.

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