Why you need to broaden your approach to diversity in the workplace

Today, many leaders and organizations are focused on improving diversity. In our work, we find that there are differing opinions about how to define diversity and identify the priorities for action. When we focus on diversity, we use a definition from Mercedes Martin, a Master Corporate Executive Coach and expert on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI). 

I like to use a quote by my former mentor, Dr Roosevelt Thomas (often referred to as the ‘Father of Diversity’): "all the ways we are different and similar." When exploring organizational diversity, the right question is not how we are doing on race, ethnicity, gender or other diversity dimensions. Instead the question needs to be: is this a workplace where ‘we’ is everyone?

Diversity requires us to look at the bigger picture of a group of people through multiple dimensions at once. While many people think of diversity in terms of strictly ethnicity or gender, other types of diversity are critical in a high performance culture. We also want to include people of different ages, work styles and energy levels, to name a few things, to ensure we have a balanced perspective across the team. 

Viewing diversity from multiple perspectives at once

Let’s delve deeper into the importance of a broader diversity definition using an example from a real client. Last year we ran the High-Performance Index™ with a 400 person company to assess how well this organization Helps People Align, Collaborate and Grow. Let’s assess high-performance culture using multiple demographic lenses – the results vary greatly with each lens.

Naked Eye

 Starting without our glasses, we see the HPI results overall with the naked eye. These results show strong average scores across the board on each dimension.

Age Lens

Many people need reading glasses as they age. If we assess the results by age using our reading glasses, the results were consistent across all departments. While there is variation in the HPI data, there was not a discernible pattern based on the demographic of age.

Ethnicity Lens

When we put on our tinted sunglasses and apply an Ethnicity Lens, something starts to emerge. It is very clear that one population group had much lower scores than any other group. This was a concern. Most organizations would stop here and address this ethnicity issue – and that would have been a mistake. 

It is important to look through all of our lenses before taking action. We need to be confident that we have truly identified the underlying cause of the lower scores for a particular demographic group. We have one more lens to look through.

Job Function Lens

When we look through the lens in our Job Function safety glasses, we find something startling. We noticed that a specific job function also had very low scores AND all people that had lower scores through the Ethnicity Lens worked in that job function. As we explored this further with the client it became clear that in this case the variation in the scores by ethnicity were more related to the job function than ethnicity itself.

After looking at this real data through multiple lenses, we were able to find information that was hidden in plain sight. When we think about diversity, it goes beyond one or two metrics. Seeing diversity through a collection of lenses allows us to go from macro to micro and find specific areas and groups that require our attention.

From Macro to Micro

Which element of diversity should you focus on? While this example led us to a surprising conclusion, there are many organizations where we can isolate diversity issues that are truly related to gender or ethnicity. Using our High-Performance Index™ approach of looking through all of the lenses helps you do three things:

  1. Isolate exactly which demographic groups is having a lesser human experience of work
  2. Identify the specific high-performance culture elements that are the issue (e.g. is it a perceived inequity in performance reviews? a lack of involvement in goal-setting? not feeling respected and included?)
  3. Debrief with employees to separate isolated issues from systemic issues and create an action plan

Beyond the data

There is only so much we can do with the numbers in front of us. The next step is to dig deeper into the individual human experiences of members of the groups affected. 

At SupportingLines, we are focused on empowering you to take action based on data. In order to come up with a solution for these particular groups of employees who clearly stood out in the data to be having a poor human experience of work, we will be running a workshop specifically for the employees in said department. Once we listen to their concerns and suggestions, we can explore how to address and remediate the differences in their work experiences. 

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff is the Founder & CEO of SupportingLines. He is also a certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, seasoned C-suite business leader and yoga instructor.

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