What Diversity & Inclusion is Really About

An individual’s mental models are the primary limiting factors to achieving his or her potential. Similarly, business models and ingrained biases can be limiting factors for a company and its employees. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) pushes the limits of both mental models and organizational biases to realize the full and best potential of individuals and organizations. With increasing demands in the global context for responsiveness, adaptability, innovation, speed and responsible corporate citizenship, organizations cannot afford to dismiss the potential benefits of Diversity & Inclusion. However, bringing D&I to the organization can initially be difficult and painful, as the process requires clarity of purpose, resolve, focus and a carefully crafted, locally relevant strategy.

 
When done well, Diversity & Inclusion can improve performance at levels akin to Six Sigma, Quality, ERP, Lean and others that have swept global enterprises. Each of these initiatives acts on causal links between individual behavior, business processes and business results. Based on careful mapping and analysis, they yield prescriptions for behavioral and process changes. Productivity gains, expansion, growth and sometimes simply survival justify the investment of cost, time and organizational energy demanded by these changes.
 
In contrast to the improvement initiatives mentioned above, D&I is often surrounded by a considerable “fog” that leaves many managers and executives with a profound sense of discomfort. This is not surprising, considering that:
 
  • D&I seeks to address a broad, complex and seemingly intangible set of issues because it focuses on a qualitatively different, causal connection. This connection lies outside the usual professional expertise or functional training of managers and executives and concerns the human dimension of organization – i.e., our psychology and sociology;
  • The term “Diversity” does not resonate with managers outside the Anglosphere . At first glance, it equates to a U.S. phenomenon with little local relevance and implies the undesirable notion of “political correctness.”
  • D&I rests on a specific set of assumptions about work, organizations and the current and future roles and responsibilities of companies in society. These issues often have not been contemplated, and if they had, the stock answer had been a half-hearted commitment to representation—usually in the form of quotas or targets for women or ethnic minorities. They are rarely deemed critical or strategic business concerns.
This article looks at each of these sources for the “fog” surrounding Diversity & Inclusion and attempts to answer a single question: What is Diversity & Inclusion really about?