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What Diversity Really Means

There was a pretty fantastic Twitter conversation happening last week on #TChat; it was about diversity. Be sure to check out the preview on MonsterThinking and the #TChat recap.

It was during this conversation that I was reminded of how much I hate the word diversity.

Picture an HR professional being called “personnel” by his or her new CEO and that pretty much captures my reaction.

The word diversity conjures up recollections of:

  • Lame Diversity Day potlucks where departments prepare food from another culture.
  • Feeling proud of a parent company’s sponsorship of the NAACP Image Awards only to discover a judge ordered them to do so because of a class action discrimination lawsuit.
  • A ridiculous attempt to make a newly hired, employee with MS feel “welcome” by telling her peers they have to walk around with a cane for a day.
  • The Diversity Department encouraging gay employees to come out to their coworkers without regard or preparation for the potential fall out and devastating emotional impact that could, and did occur. (Not to mention the resulting drop in productivity, team interventions, EAP referrals and leadership coaching that had to be done after.)

These are all true stories by the way.

It’s these kind of well-intentioned, but poorly planned and executed programs that at best, cause leaders to roll their eyes and at worst, cause them to become more entrenched in their resistance.

So should we give up? Should we stop trying to influence corporate cultures to recognize the importance and value of differences? Absolutely not!

But we need to be realistic about what it takes to change culture and mindset.

The core of diversity lies in understanding that we are better performers, better leaders, better service providers and better people when we surround ourselves with those who are different from us. However, the reality is that most adults are more comfortable with people who are just like them.

Our role is to help leaders move beyond their opposition to contradictory perspectives. It’s to help them move from valuing individuality to valuing what each individual contributes to a team. Our role is to help the highly analytical and highly creative to work together harmoniously instead of a perpetuating an adversarial relationship. This is what having a diversity mindset is all about.

A freakin’ pot luck isn’t going to fix that people.

The language we need to use with executives is relatability to consumers, innovation, increased sales, improved stock prices for shareholders and more profits. These are all natural outcomes of a diversity mindset. The mistake most HR leaders and diversity directors make is talking about this topic in terms of race, gender, age, sexual preference and the EEOC. When we bombard leaders with that language, we relegate this hugely important initiative to the realm of legal imperative instead of business necessity.

Let me conclude by addressing those of you who are going to call me a jaded, former HR professional. You’re right. I am. More importantly, I care deeply about the ethical success of American business; small and large, public and private.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Can't Separate the Cognitive from Diversity: #TChat Recap

“You and I, we are pressed into these solitudes
Color and culture, language and race
Just variations on a theme
Islands in a much larger stream
For you and me — Race is not a competition
For you and me — Race is not a definition
For you and me — We agree
Reaching for the alien shore…”

–Neil Peart, Rush (“Alien Shore” from Counterparts)

That’s usually the first thing we think of when we hear the word “diversity,” or lack thereof. It’s either that, or stereotypical gender, age, physical or mental abilities and limitations.

We default to these without giving much thought to thought, or our cognitive diversity. According to diversity expert Joe Gerstandt, cognitive diversity is becoming critical to the success of our organizations, yet it still has not received much serious attention (like emotional intelligence). “Regardless of the organization or industry, decision making, problem solving and innovation are increasingly important competencies and opportunities for competitive advantage and all of these things are all fed by cognitive diversity.”

The most cognitively diverse group I’ve ever hired, trained and managed, were university students (and of course, the most racially and culturally diverse as well). They were hired to make high-pressure fundraising calls for San Jose State University’s academic programs and general fund. It was tough work. Thankfully there was a candidate pool of 30,000 students to source from because turnover was high semester to semester.

Identifying the right talent who had the magic “no fear” ability to get alumni, parents and friends of the university to donate during a 5-10 minute phone call was critical. The ones who fared the best were among the most socially outgoing, inventive, adaptive on the phones, and at times highly combative with me, the management. Cognitive diversity certainly didn’t mean hand-holding consensus. However, some of the best fundraising ideas came from this subset. I felt like everyday I was drinking different flavors of thought Kool-Aid and we came up with tasty new ones that improved the why of what we did.

Of course my own personal biases affected my hiring decisions at the time, but I always had the attitude that, “I’m not going to hire you just because you’re [blank].” Either you’re helping me raise the money for the university, or you’re not. That’s about as diverse as it got. And for the most part throughout my careers, every time I’ve attempted to build (and sell) a better mousetrap I’ve always wanted smart, unique folk all around me who know how to build (and sell). That means challenge and push and pull and innovate and excel. That means cognitive diversity.

But then something happened towards the end of #TChat last night as we wound down the diversity questions. Someone wrote:

“A lot of white people talking up diversity on #TChat – I don’t see a lot of diversity though, just white folks tweeting…”

An interesting sidebar began that came down to our experiences by race. For example, I was told that the workplace challenges I’ve faced are nothing compared to those of people of color (for example). I wrote that I understood, but considering the year I’ve had, I wasn’t so sure any more.

Then I was told, “My friend, consider this. You have experienced this for the first time. My whole life has been like that.”

And then I wrote, “Thank you. This is why I do what I do. I am not you, and you are not me, but maybe we can make a difference?”

This was when consensus made all the difference in the world. I came full circle and realized you really can’t separate cognitive diversity from the rest of the person’s context and subjective experiences. It’s all what makes us individually whole.

This is the world we live and work in. Together. For better or for worse. Amen.

“For you and me — Race is not a competition
For you and me — Race is not a definition
For you and me — We agree
Reaching for the alien shore…”

Thank you everyone again for participating last night! Did I tell you we’re launching #TChat radio on July 26? More soon!

You can read the great preview post by Joe Gerstandt. Here were last night’s questions:

  • Q1: What Does “Diversity” Mean to You in 140 Characters or Less?
  • Q2: What role does diversity plan in an employer’s bigger talent picture?
  • Q3: Has anything changed about the way employers and employees look at diversity?
  • Q4: How can organizations benefit from building and maintaining a diverse workforce?
  • Q5: What are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions about diversity in today’s workplace?
  • Q6: What role should leaders play in diversity and inclusion?
  • Q7: Does diversity still matter in today’s world of work?  What’s t
    he future of diversity look like?

 

Diversity Still Matters in Today’s Workplace? #TChat Preview

Originally posted by Joe Gerstandt on MonsterThinking Blog


Intersections baby, its all about the intersections…

The majority of the work that we do around diversity and inclusion as HR professionals is focused on identity diversity, which is differences in our social identities…things like age, gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, physical ability, etc.

I think that there are probably some interesting discussions to be had  about how effective this work has been and currently is, but I think we can at least agree that there is a lot of work still to be done.

I would suggest that, not only do we need to be more aggressive and more innovative with this body of work, we need to do a better job of integrating other kinds of difference into the conversation as well.  Differences in who we are and where we come from certainly do matter; as do differences in what and how we think, or cognitive diversity.

The ability to leverage cognitive diversity is becoming critical to the success of our organizations, yet it still has not received much serious attention.

“Cognitive diversity is the extent to which the group reflects differences in knowledge, including beliefs, preferences and perspectives.” -Miller, et al (1998) Strategic Management Journal

Regardless of the organization or industry, decision making, problem solving and innovation are increasingly important competencies and opportunities for competitive advantage and all of these things are all fed by cognitive diversity.

With all the talk there is about innovation and creative problem solving, you would assume that our understanding of the mechanics involved exists on the level of common sense, but that is obviously not the case.

While we work very hard in this profession to get good at figuring out how to find and hire the right person…we seem to care little about building the right kinds of teams. Hiring the person with the right education or grades or certifications does not necessarily mean that we are building the right kind of team.

The fact of the matter is that groups of really, really smart individuals can collectively be very dumb.

“Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers.Lu Hong, Scott Page

Not only do we need to get better at understanding the value of thinking differently, we need to make sure that we are not being wasteful with the cognitive diversity that we already have on board.  Teams, whether they are work teams or leadership teams often are not terribly good at disagreeing with each other.

In some organizations disagreeing is seen as counterproductive or even disrespectful.  While it needs to be done respectfully, disagreeing is incredibly important; if we are not able to do that we are wasting any and all cognitive diversity that we have access to.

“Groups often fail to outperform individuals because they prematurely move to consensus, with dissenting opinions being suppressed or dismissed.-Hackman & Morris, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology

For more on driving innovation through cognitive diversity, make sure to check out Joe’s SHRM 2011 presentation, “Great Minds DO NOT Think Alike! Putting Cognitive Diversity to Work For Your Organization,” June 28, 2011 from 2:15-3:30 PM at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

#TChat Questions and Recommended Reading: 06.21.2011

We hope you can join us tonight at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT for this week’s #TChat: Does Diversity Still Matter in Today’s World of Work? We’ll be discussing the current state of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, what employees and employers really think about diversity initiatives and taking a look at opportunities – and challenges – of building and maintaining a diverse workforce in today’s evolving world of work.

It’s sure to be a lively discussion, so we hope you can join us at 8 PM ET on Twitter for #TChat.

Here are tonight’s questions, along with some related posts on leadership and talent  we think are worth checking out.  This background reading isn’t mandatory to get in on tonight’s joint #TChat action, but we suggest checking out these articles by top diversity and inclusion thought leaders before the chat (or if you missed it):

Q1: What Does “Diversity” Mean to You in 140 Characters or Less?

Read: What Affirmative Action, Diversity and Inclusion Mean to Workers

Q2: What role does diversity plan in an employer’s bigger talent picture?

Read: Why Organizations Struggle With Diversity Recruiting Initiatives

Q3: Has anything changed about the way employers and employees look at diversity?

Read: Diversity’s Three Legged Stool

Q4: How can organizations benefit from building and maintaining a diverse workforce?

Read: Diversity and Inclusion: From Corrective Action to Competitive Advantage

Q5: What are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions about diversity in today’s workplace?

Read: Stop Stereotyping: Overcome Your Worst Diversity Enemy

Q6: What role should leaders play in diversity and inclusion?

Read: To Achieve Workplace Diversity, Go Beyond Good Intentions

Q7: Does diversity still matter in today’s world of work?  What’s the future of diversity look like?

Read: The New Diversity of Workplace: The Diversity of Thought?

Visit www.talentculture.com for more great information on #TChat, as well as other great resources on careers and hiring.

Monster’s social media team supports #TChat’s mission of sharing “ideas to help your business and your career accelerate — the right people, the right ideas, at the right time.”

We’ll be joining the conversation this Tuesday night as co-hosts with Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman from 8-9 p.m. (Eastern) via @MonsterCareers and @Monster_Works.

Embracing Generational Differences in the Workplace?

On a recent #TChat, the topic was Generations in the Workplace.  It’s always intriguing to hear people talk about this in HR because this isn’t a “new” issue.  There have been generations in the workplace – FOREVER!

Also, many HR people and consultants alike tend to want to take this topic to the point of emphasizing the differences between generations instead of focusing on their strengths.  HR would be such a powerful force in organizations if we broke the paradigm of “Let’s fix what’s wrong or different” and instead approached issues from a position of strength and identified how these differences make us more valuable.

Let me give you an example . . .

Growing up, I got hooked on rock music and one of the first mind-blowing groups I couldn’t get enough of was Led Zeppelin.  Now, even though this may date me, I listened to these rock gods on vinyl – Glorious, crackly vinyl.  I wore out my albums listening to them over and over.

When I got towards the end of high school, people starting recording music on cassettes.  Now you could take your music with you to play in your car, in other people’s houses on their stereo systems, or even in your Sony Walkman.  We were amazed that music could travel with us.

Then, in college I actually remember the day when a fellow student brought in a shiny round disc and said it was music.  I didn’t believe him, but as he laid the disc into this gigantic box of a player – here came Led Zeppelin in crystal clear sound.  No cracks, no skips – just Jimmy Page and Robert Plant bringing the rock.

After college, music continued to evolve and this thing called the iPod came along and now I could get music digitally.  Not only that, but I could add the other 5,000+ songs from my CD, cassette and vinyl collections all on one player AND take it with me!

So, what does Led Zeppelin and modes of music have to do with generations?  It’s simple . . . even though I have listened to Led Zeppelin on albums, cassettes, CDs and an iPod . . . the music remained the same.

Just as the four generations in our current workplaces are from different eras, the value and quality of their skills, knowledge and work remain the same.  Our modes may be different with technology or flextime or other cultural issues, but in the end the generations are always working to the same goal of great work and a great company,

So, quit trying to tear generations apart.  Let’s focus on the strengths that every generation brings to work every day!

Cultivating Diversity: A New Way to Network

Jon Lovitz did a routine on Saturday Night Live about how to be more successful. The answer to success was always the catch phrase, “Get to know me!”

Looking back on my first year of leaving the corporate world for entrepreneurship in the world of strategy and innovation, the success we’ve had has been linked in every instance to getting to know OTHER people over the past few years. This effort was coupled with trying to deliver a valuable experience to others through a presentation they attended, assisting them with networking, or somehow trying to help them whenever we interacted.

Another important element of my “getting to know people “strategy is embracing a concept vital to successful innovation: cultivating diversity.

Too often, I see people networking very narrowly, trying to meet people similar to them. Yet when all your networking effort goes toward people in the same company, industry, or geographic location, you wind up tremendously limiting your options.

As you look toward the coming year, here are 6 strategies to enhance the diversity of your networking efforts and ensure you get the greatest benefit from investing time to meet new people:

  1. Expertise Diversity: Network by topic, not by group – Rather than sticking to the same association networking events you always attend, review the list of educational events in your area and target your networking participation by topic, not group. For me, going to new marketing-related meetings and even to a lunch sponsored by a largely female-oriented organization led to re-establishing contacts with people I hadn’t seen for years and who now had very different careers and networks.
  2. Time Diversity: Allow yourself to network at multiple times of the day – It’s easy for your schedule to dictate networking only at certain times of the day, i.e. typical work requirements make lunches difficult so you attend happy hours. Figure out how to vary that pattern and go to events at a new time of the day. You’ll run into different types of people, creating new opportunities.
  3. Age Diversity: Attend events with someone of a different generation – If you’re going to the right types of diverse events, people from three or four generations should be present. To help in meeting people across the greatest age range, ask friends in generations preceding and following yours to join you at events. They can help attract and make introductions with a broader mix of attendees than you might ever pursue on your own.
  4. Profile Diversity: Be inefficient in meeting new people – Sometimes when you meet a new person, you feel like you’re being put through a standard set of qualifying questions to see if you warrant more time and follow-up. Efficient, yes. But I rarely want to invest time with those people. Put away the efficient qualifying-speak and ask questions which make sense for the person you’re talking with right now. Invest more time in hearing what they have to say instead of only listening for keywords important to you.
  5. Channel Diversity: Live tweet an event you’re attending and blog about it afterwardSharing a speaker’s content through tweeting at an event is a great way to meet and interact with new people both at the venue and those following it remotely. Turning your tweets into a subsequent blog post (either for your own blog or perhaps the association’s blog) provides yet another way to meet others interested in the speaker, the topic, or the sponsoring group.
  6. Audience Diversity: Speak at an event, especially if you never have before – If you’ve not been a public speaker previously, make this the year to prepare content, rehearse, and break into the ranks of people sharing their knowledge at public events. You’ll meet multiple people and be in the wonderful position of having offered something of value to them before even getting to know them.
  7. Atmosphere Diversity: Throw a party and invite too many people – Hosting a party is a great way to get to know people you already know in new ways. Since only a certain percent of people you invite will actually attend, play the percentages and invite a bunch of new people – more than you can accommodate – and discover new attendees who will become your great party guests of the future.

With these diversity-building efforts incorporated into your efforts, you’ll get to know a whole new group of people and have a much stronger network to show for it.