Brain power

Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

The film Hidden Figures presents the jarring juxtaposition between a society making the kind of technological leaps required to put a man into space at the same time as continuing to racially segregate society and diminish the role women played in such endeavors.

While Katherine Johnson, the brilliant mathematician who was the lead story in the film, eventually received the recognition her talents deserved, in an age of #MeToo and BLM, it would be naive to believe that our journey towards equality has been achieved.

This is despite the benefits of diversity being increasingly well established.  For instance, MIT research1 shows that diverse workforces were especially beneficial because they were more likely to yield the kind of creative breakthroughs seen at NASA in the 1960s.

Indeed, the Boston Consulting Group2 (BCG) argues that this diversity boost is so great that it generates 19% higher revenues than in more homogenous organizations.  What’s more, diversity and fairness are increasingly demanded3 by young people in the workplace, which as BCG4 illustrates, if we are to attract the talent we need, then we need to up our game considerably on providing a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Lackluster change

Yet, as the University of Pennsylvania’s Adam Payne and Dana Kaminstein explain in the MIT Sloan Management Review5, despite the billions invested in DEI initiatives, evidence of change has been pretty lackluster, with the authors outlining various forms of diversity theater that give the appearance of doing something while actually achieving very little.

It’s a lack of progress that the Living Institute’s Heidi Andersen addresses head-on in her recent book Diversity Intelligence, in which she outlines a number of causes for the poor performance, before outlining a road map for effective change.

“We have identified four steps that companies need to take in order to create a diverse and inclusive environment,” she explains.

Why you want to change

The first step is to understand why it is that you want to change in the first place.  Andersen explains that often businesses and leaders fall into the trap of placing vague platitudes behind their DEI work, saying that it’s vital to their business without ever really explaining “why” it’s vital.

Andersen also believes that it’s important that organizations understand for whom it is important and why.  Is it important for board members?  Customers?  Employees?  Is it important due to concerns around fairness, profitability, or something else?

By clarifying where the drive for diversity and inclusion comes from also helps leaders to understand what possible resistance any efforts might face.

Knowing your gap

In lean circles, a gap analysis is a fundamental start point in helping you to understand where you are now and where you would like to be in the future.  It’s a vital first step because a surprising number of organizations embark on a course of change without ever fully understanding where they currently are.  This makes it almost impossible to tell whether what you’re doing is working or not.

In diversity and inclusion terms, this means understanding the current situation in the organization.  Who feels included and who does not?  What characterizes those who feel excluded?  Who might leave your organization if things don’t improve?

“Instead of trying to fix everything, gathering this data allows you to understand what it is that actually needs to be fixed and what initiatives need to be put in place,” Andersen explains.

Charting your course

When you know where you currently are, and where you’d like to get to (and when), then it becomes possible to create a strategy to help you get there.  Often this will involve a culture change initiative as it is often the culture of the organization that created the problem to begin with.

Anderson highlights 13 distinct initiatives that the Living Institute has found have a positive impact on diversity in an organization.  She cautions that often those initiatives that are easiest, such as unconscious bias training, have the least impact, but there is nonetheless some low-hanging fruit available.

For instance, yearly data monitoring, synchronization of top management, and anchoring D&I strategy at the top of the organization all have a big impact while being relatively straightforward to implement.  The initiatives to be avoided include mentoring, women-only leadership programs, and developing a women’s network.

Implementing your strategy

The next step is to then implement the strategy.  This should not be regarded as a one-time affair but rather in true lean style, an ongoing case of planning, doing, checking, and acting.  Leaders should be in no doubt as to the nature of the problem, however.

“At the heart of the action is the understanding that your business may not exist five years from now if this does not happen,” Andersen writes. “This is where you mobilize everyone, at every level, to bring about the necessary cultural change to improve diversity and inclusivity.”

Likewise, leaders should be in no doubt as to the scale of the change, with D&I initiatives gathering pace as organizations appreciate that without it it will be impossible to recruit and retain the talent required to thrive.  Now is the time to ensure that D&I is done properly.

Article source: Creating A Diverse And Inclusive Work Environment.

Header image source: iStock.


  1. Ellison, S. F., & Mullin, W. P. (2014). Diversity, social goods provision, and performance in the firm. Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, 23(2), 465-481.
  2. Lorenzo, R., Voigt, N., Tsusaka, M., Krentz, M., & Abouzahr, K. (2018). How diverse leadership teams boost innovation. Boston Consulting Group.
  3. Deloitte. (2021). A call for accountability and action. Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey.
  4. BCG. (2021). BCG Executive Perspectives, Edition 31 How COVID-19 Changed the Consumer. Boston Consulting Group.
  5. Payne, A. & Kaminstein, D. (2021). Effecting Real Progress in Executive Diversity and Inclusion. MIT Sloan Management Review.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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