When I hear the word “diversity” in organizations, it is usually about gender, ethnicity and disability. Are there enough women in senior leadership positions? Do we hire visible minorities? Are there wheelchair ramps? (This is an answer to that question of: “people with disabilities.”)
There are two variations on the theme. Have we met targets? And: “Do we need diversity training so people will be more tolerant of each other?” The mood is gloomy; conversations have a compliance flavor.
Diversity: Beyond Hiring and Training
Conversations about gender, culture and accessibility are important. But I cast the net much more broadly when I think of diversity. This short video gives you a sense of my interests and research. It is also on youtube, along side of two related videos about this concept in higher education.
Diversity for the Unconverted
At conferences and in my writing, I often focus on diversity of ideas. The slides below are taken from a presentation I called: “Diversity for the Unconverted.” I was thinking of the managers who feel stuck in a compliance mindset. If they were to honestly free-associate with the term diversity they might say: difficult, required, HR, and communication problems.
I wanted to present stories that would light a spark. Stories that could catalyze new ways of thinking. Stories about the power of diversity for agility, productivity and innovation.
One of those stories compared two groups. Both were part of a network of communities. Both were involved with counter-terrorism work. But they felt as different as night and day. These presentation slides graphically show my research results. Without even knowing what each category means, it is obvious that the two groups thought about things very differently. Members of Community 3 were excited about their work. They felt effective and showed me evidence of success. Just taking one topic–boundaries–they considered boundaries as opportunities for integration. They often sought out diversity in order to be more productive and innovative.
Members of Community 1 found their work difficult. They did not feel effective or satisfied. They found boundaries constraining. Members often felt they could not initiate projects or conversations: they might be moving into someone else’s territory. They maintained silos. Paradoxically, it was the constraints of silos that led to the creation of this potentially nimble network.
Add Work with Diversity to your Toolkit
Knowing how to make space for boundary-spanning diversity is a key part of a leader’s toolkit. This is especially important in complex environments, where organizations need to be ready for unexpected changes.