The Main Reason Why Adding Demographic Diversity Does Not Lead to Inclusion

The Main Reason Why Adding Demographic Diversity Does Not Lead to Inclusion

In practice, adding demographic diversity to a team does not automatically lead to inclusion.  Part of the problem is that there are multiple dimensions of diversity beyond demographics.  Most groups who are demographically homogenous often cannot see different kinds of diversity within their own group.  And, if they do, they silence that diversity rather than creating an inclusive environment.  

So they are already starting off without inclusion and expect adding demographic diversity to bring inclusion. That's backwards.

Managers need to identify, value and leverage the diversity within their seemingly homogeneous group to be successful adding demographic diversity.  Otherwise, not only will managers not retain new group members, but they will lose other members who have diversity dimensions different than the group.  Thus, creating an even more homogeneous group.

People want to work where their identity is seen and valued.

At The Impact Seat, we have a simple diagnostic to start the discussion about diversity within teams.  When deployed, it identifies diversity in multiple dimensions.

These dimensions, when explored, present a fuller picture of a team.  

Diversity Dimensions

Functional: 

Each person brings experiences and talents to work.  One’s work history relating to past employers, past roles, past industries - these all come to bear on current work. How often have you been in a room where someone said, “That’s not how it’s done here?”  So, how crossfunctional is your team?

Disciplinary:

Education or training, or anything that builds skills and knowledge, is a core part of each person’s identity. Homogeneity in this area is common in companies.  We recruit from the same schools we went to; hire people who studied what we studied.  In many cases, this homogeneity comes from convenience.  

Another area of disciplinary diversity is language ability.  When someone has a competence in multiple languages, whether that is fluency or basic proficiency, they have a window into other cultures.  This is a common area where we use demographic characteristics as a proxy, rather than explicitly valuing the discipline. 

Boundary Spanning or External Networks:

Successful companies need to know what is going on with outside influencers like competitors, community or customers. An external perspective is important as are external collaborations. This is a diversity dimension that a team can have even if only one or two members are engaging with the outside.  The key for a manager is to leverage that experience.

Cognitive - Knowledge:

There’s been a lot of discussion about introverts and extroverts in the workplace, and that’s been a great model for thinking about inclusion. Introvert/Extrovert is only one of many cognitive characteristics people have.  Some people prefer to learn by doing, whereas other like to read all the instructions.  Some people like to process lots of information at once while others prefer a more linear approach.  Managers need to leverage all of these styles to get the most out of their teams.

Cognitive - Values:

Personal values such as religious, moral or political are part of a person’s cognitive identity.  We often try to use demographic information as a proxy for someone’s values, but that is often a false correlation. Corporations have values too.  There are CSR (corporate social responsibility) policies and other values explicitly or implicitly expressed.  Sometimes these values are in conflict. 

One example of a value is the role work plays in your life.  This is a value that each person has as an individual and companies have as well, and it can change over time.  The perception that this is mainly an issue for women is the false connection between demographic characteristics and a value.  Recently, in conversation with an all-male group, each man mentioned a conflict between his values and the company’s value of work. They often feel silenced when trying to address this difference.

Questions for Managers to Ask

To lay the groundwork for a better, more inclusive environment, managers need to ask themselves these questions:

  • Do I know enough about my team to appreciate and leverage the existing level of diversity? 
  • What am I doing on a daily basis in my routines and practices to amplify the diversity I already have in my group?  How can I tell?
  • What am I doing on a daily basis in my routines and practices to silence the diversity in my group?  How can I tell?

Diverse teams achieve better results when managed for diversity.  The first step to successfully managing for diversity is looking beyond demographic diversity to see each person’s complex diversity identity and then leveraging those differences within the group.