Deep Diversity

Take a Root-Level Approach that Gets Under the Crossfire and Into the Lead

Diversity is a competitive advantage. Oh, but the dangers. The culture war. The resentment and resistance from “diversity fatigue.” It’s all creating crossfire that often does more harm than good.

With arrows flying all directions, what can leaders do?

I suggest a “deep diversity” approach that gets companies under the crossfire and into the lead.

Diversity Dividends

Before we get to the deep diversity idea, let’s look closer at the dividends and dangers of diversity, starting with the dividends.

  • Diverse groups profit more. A study of Fortune 500 companies concludes that those with the highest percentages of women board directors outperform those with the least by 53%. Google’s Director of People Analytics, Brian Welle, says, “The research is showing that when we have gender diversity at the very top of organizations it drives all of the metrics that shareholders care about…Complex decision-making and innovation are better.”
  • Diverse groups make better decisions. Lisa Burrell, Editorial Director for MIT’s Sloan Management Review, says, “Decades’ worth of studies show that a diverse workplace measurably improves decision-making, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and flexibility.”
  • Diverse groups keep talent longer. Greater diversity of thought in companies improves retention and reduces expensive turnover.

BP CEO Bob Dudley writes, “To stay competitive today, and in the future, we need the brightest and most talented people bringing their best to work every day. We need an environment that not only allows that but actively encourages it. Working in a respectful and inclusive environment means we perform better as individuals, in our teams and as a company.”

Diversity Dangers

There’s danger in diversity too. In September 2018 JPMorgan settled a diversity suit for $24 million, the latest in a string of Wall Street settlements that included $35.5 million from Well Fargo and $160 million from Merrill Lynch.

Settlements are just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Companies who fail to diversify miss out on the best of the labor market. To stay competitive in a tight labor market with millennials on the rise and boomers in decline, companies need a diversity mindset that includes diversity of thought and opinion, not just race and gender. A Deloitte study showed that “millennials think of diversity and inclusion as valuing open participation by employees with different perspectives and personalities. In contrast, older workers think of it as equitable representation and assimilation of people from different demographic groups.”
  • Companies who fail to diversify make uninformed decisions. Homogenous groups often make ignorant and expensive mistakes. They miss market opportunities created by their shared blindness, and can’t innovate as fast as those who see more business reality surfaced by diverse perspectives.
  • Companies who fail to diversify undermine trust and business reputation. Internal conflict spills out into the streets as media tech gives anyone a chance to complain to the masses. Employees have more power than ever to downgrade corporate reputation.

Diversity Fatigue

McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2018 reports companies putting priority on gender diversity but failing to get results. “The proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed. Progress isn’t just slow. It’s stalled.”

Diversity training hasn’t just stalled. It’s backfiring. Current methods make things worse. “The problem is, organizations are trying to reduce bias with the same kinds of programs they’ve been using since the 1960s,” write Harvard’s Frank Dobbin and Tel Aviv University professor Alexandra Kalev, “And the usual tools – diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, grievance systems – tend to make things worse, not better. [Data analysis of] 829 firms over three decades shows that these tools actually decrease the proportion of women and minorities in management. They’re designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ decisions and actions. But as lab studies show, this kind of force-feeding can activate bias and encourage rebellion.”1 Workers are complaining of “diversity fatigue” and believe “the diversity label is now counter-productive.”2

So what do we do? Researchers are angling in on what works and what doesn’t. For the moment, they suggest these two approaches:

  • Ease up on mandates, quotas, and controls. Culture-change is an organic process that involves changing minds, not just policies, and can often be like trying to rush a pregnancy. A patient, guiding style is helpful here. Also, it’s human nature to push back when pushed. Clinical psychologists William Miller and Stephen Rollnick demonstrate how a directing style of leadership has a 95% backfire rate in helping ambivalent people change. This same thinking holds for the challenge of changing people’s minds in the area of diversity and inclusion. The better way, say Miller and Rollnick, is to use a guiding style instead of a directing style, one that helps people find their own reasons for change instead of simply stating the leader’s reasons or the company’s reasons.
  • Work on structures that reduce bias naturally. Create processes that reduce bias naturally, like stripping names off resumes and establishing clear and measurable skills and goals for every position in the organization.

Deep Diversity: A Root-Level, Indirect Approach

I suggest a third approach I describe as “deep diversity”: a root-level, indirect strategy that impacts diversity along with other key business priorities at the same time, stays below the cultural crossfire, and builds longer-lasting commitments to change.

It starts with Perceptual IntelligenceTM, which teaches…

  • The causal relationship between perception, emotion, and behavior.
  • The strategy of starting with perception. Influencers learn how to identify and optimize the perceptions that drive business success.

Deep diversity training uses Perceptual IntelligenceTM to drive three prime perceptions into organizational culture. These three perceptions boost organizational health and performance and, along the way, create an authentic desire for diversity.

This perception-driven approach is more effective. But few use it. Why? American author Henry David Thoreau described it this way: “For every thousand hacking at the branches of evil, there is one striking at the root.” Branch-hacking is hard work and doesn’t work. Root-striking is easier and works much better. So why Thoreau’s thousand-to-one ratio? Why is root-striking so rare? Why aren’t more people solving problems the easier way?

Because roots are invisible. We can’t strike roots we can’t see. Leaders can’t solve emotional, motivational, attitudinal and behavioral problems because they fail to identify the perceptual roots that drive them. Perceptual IntelligenceTM helps them find and strike these roots.

This approach to diversity lines up with Dobbin and Kalev’s admission that “some of the most effective solutions aren’t even designed with diversity in mind.” If a full-frontal assault entrenches opposition, maybe an indirect and peaceable approach would be more effective?

It’s like growing a rose garden. Gardeners take an organic, long-term, indirect, root-level approach. They don’t pretend that they can pull the petals apart to accelerate the bloom. They don’t mandate and muscle the flowers into compliance. They make sure the soil is right, that the weeds are cleared, that the fertilizer and sunshine and the patience are there for the long haul.

Perhaps the same approach could grow deep diversity in our organizations.

1Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” Harvard Business Review, July 2016.
2From “Spot the Difference: Examining The Motivations and Context for Women’s and Men’s Career Choices.”