Diversity and inclusion are essential neighborhoods that individuals and organizations move through on their journey to creating a more complex, heterogeneous (diverse) view of the universe. We need to live in that neighborhood, learn it’s lessons, drink from it’s well of wisdom, and once we have embodied the values and consciousness, we bring them with us, wherever our journey takes us. There are no short cuts to consciousness. We either are living it or we still haven’t gotten it (which is an opportunity, not an obstacle). So, if you observe a conference agenda or a company masthead and all or most of the speakers or principals represent the dominant paradigm (generally men, usually white), they may have read the memo, but they have not yet embodied the complexity of difference, the gateway to an expanded view of reality.
Here’s the business case
Why are diversity and inclusion important? Well for a million, or maybe 5 billion reasons. At it’s worst and most extreme, the fear of diversity and inclusion, as evidenced by actively institutionalizing and normalizing the dehumanization of another, reflects profound ignorance and mental dis-ease. If you have not seen the movie 12 Years as a Slave, do so. It is one of the most real (and historical) representations of institutionalized dehumanization ever depicted in the movies. While in 2015 the mind of the slaveholder from the 1860’s may seem distant, the vestiges are very much alive. Every day we avert our eyes from abject poverty and modern day slave trafficking on one extreme, to the lack of diversity and inclusion within leadership, whether in government or corporations. It’s a continuum that emerges from the same place – ignorance. Disowning diversity and shuttering the doors to inclusion may simplify our sense of complexity, but it limits our ability to grow as humans and expand our consciousness.
When we look at the composition of a company through the diagnostic lens of diversity and inclusion, we are offered several insights that when acknowledged and integrated through self-awareness, facilitates growth and leadership across the board. The most redeeming aspect of ignorance is that it can be changed; not one of us is “stuck” with ignorance – with humility, help, and reflection we all can change our hearts and minds. And, to that, we should all say “hallelujah”.
Aside from the moral dimension, why change?
First, homogeneity in a heterogeneous world demonstrates that an organization is not future-ready and is fundamentally challenged to accept reality. Demographics are THE most powerful determinant of outcomes. The day of reckoning will be upon us regardless of how much we resist that reality.
Second, it suggests leadership doesn’t know its customers, or has a very limited view of their customers, which indicates markets and opportunities are being overlooked due to bias. The distance between leadership and customers is a measurement and predictor of future success, a truth we should never lose sight of.
Third, an organization or company will simply not be able to innovate; innovation requires heterophilia or the love of difference. Homophilia, or the love of the similar, is useful in diffusion strategy (person to person, or neighbor to neighbor marketing), but inhibits and kills creativity during the innovation phase. Diversity allows us to find adjacencies. The more facile we are with managing difference, the faster we are able to find the doors that open to previously unimagined futures. Even worse, the homophilia observable in all white or all male or all heterosexual (dominant paradigm) environments is symptomatic of entropic or closed systems that will inevitably implode. Lack of diversity and inclusion reflects organizational echo chambers that are incapable of learning anything new and therefore signal closed-systems that will eventually run out of energy and collapse. The only thing we really should not tolerate in our lives is giving our precious life-energy to something that is doomed to destroy itself out of a lack of self-awareness. It is entirely unnecessary if we are paying attention and open to receiving feedback.
A platform for growth
Observing the lack of diversity and inclusion within a company and then seeking to change this condition does not assume that an organization is ripe with overt hatred and bigotry. It might be, but more likely it’s subtle, corrosive and reflects a lack of consciousness and courage. Marginalizing differences is usually institutionalized (ergo “no-one” is responsible or conversely “everyone” is responsible) and probably not symptomatic of a pathological mental illness like hatred or seeing someone as less than human (dehumanizing). However, lack of pathology or hatred, but the presence of ignorance, does not make it easy to be the “token”, or to be invisible, or excluded for being outside a system’s norm; garden-variety ignorance hurts. Prolonged internalization of discrimination causes harm that is passed-on through generations, making it pernicious to everyone, on both sides; it creates closed systems with reinforcing logic that make change difficult.
Addressing a lack of organizational diversity and inclusion also does not equal being “politically correct”, which is another form of homophilia that creates a new kind of tyranny. Institutionalizing political correctness only shifts the “othering” in which the old, dominant paradigm is now scapegoated. However, not finding a way past “political correctness” is not an excuse for avoiding the real work of facilitating diversity and inclusion; rather it is often reflective of disowning vulnerability – every single last one of us has a shadow. Emotional and social intelligence pivots around integrating those parts of ourselves that we unconsciously project and try to move away from, yet that follow us every where (take a look at these YouTube clips of children seeing their shadows for the first time. It is a fascinating and revealing glimpse into how we relate to our shadow material).
Lack of diversity and patterns of exclusion are symptomatic and an organizational diagnostic. Nothing to be ashamed of, but better acknowledged than avoided. Healing the wounds caused by institutionalized normative behavior and the exclusion it facilitates offers an organization and it’s people a platform to grow exponentially in ways that fundamentally supports maturity and complex thinking. It might be the best business decision your company ever made, because to internalize diversity and inclusion transforms consciousness and that is something you can bet the farm on.
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