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A New Diversity and Inclusion Approach

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

It’s Time for a Different Take

In the past five years, we all felt a sense of exhilaration as we witnessed the rise of newly hired VPs of Diversity and Inclusion and Chiefs of Culture in corporate America.

Their roles are considered critical to organizations playing catch-up as waves of technology and a profound shift in societal values take over our lives, work, attention, and energy.

While attending a group discussion focused on culture with other Diversity and Inclusion professionals, hosted by GapingVoid agency, it clearly appeared to me that many D&I initiatives and programs are not working as expected. From employee training to brand manifestos, best intentions are falling short of their intended goals.

It seems that organizations are merely reflecting the confusion each one of us feels. The human mind cannot keep pace with the profound changes happening in our society that are challenging our comprehension and experience of Diversity and Inclusion.

Our understanding of D&I needs a reboot.

Let’s Start with Definitions

First, it’s important to align on the same definition and meaning of Diversity and Inclusion.

  • Diversity is the presence of differences within a given setting and in the workplace that can include differences in race, ethnicity, gender or any other number of things.

  • Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging and support from the organization.

Keep the ideas of differences and of a sense of belonging in mind, as we’ll come back to them.

Revisit Our Assumptions

We tend to apply our mechanistic minds to D&I in the same way that we think of product lines, automations and project management: a process with expected outcomes.

By contrast, D&I is a deep, unknown territory within ourselves, which is why many people are starting with faulty assumptions when thinking about it:

We Think D&I Is About Culture

Wrong. Culture is the result of values that we individually choose to embrace. We cannot dictate beliefs and we can’t “train” or “reformat” their minds to fit a specific culture.

Today, we are witnessing a different kind of desire: we want to belong to ourselves and we want to be included as ourselves.

We are entering a new decade of belonging.

We Think Inclusion Is Life or Death

This is no longer true. New technologies have given birth to peer-to-peer networks and open knowledge. As a result, we are less dependent on others and can survive and even thrive by ourselves. We don't need others, like previous generations did, to establish a career and make a living.

We Think Equity is Equality

The idea of treating everyone the same is unrealistic and impossible.

In the same way, aiming for a cohesive and unified organization will focus attention on the organization and not individuals.

Instead, the intention should be to form a whole centered around the individual's perception of meaning and value.

Use a New Collaboration Framework

When it comes to allowing differences to show up and experiencing a sense of belonging within an organization, D&I means that we have to work together differently.

We need a new framework to bring individuals’ differences and form a whole.

In the past twelve months, I’ve co-hosted a workshop with Meredith Lewis and Valeria Maltoni, teaching a new framework called “Emerging Co-Creation.” The framework offers a fundamentally new way of working together that goes against and is in direct opposition to what we’ve been taught regarding leadership and growth in organizations: the idea of command and control, and the notion that some have natural leadership or creative skills and others don’t.

For organizations to truly embrace D&I, three elements are required:

  1. A new individual skill to deal with uncertainty

  2. A new form of creation to adapt to the new economy

  3. A new way to innovate by disrupting our habits

The Emerging Co-Creation framework fosters compassion, leading individuals on a path to nurture their curiosity and inviting organization to take the following initiatives.

Create Space

When space is provided for individuals to voice their own individuality, it gives them a sense of belonging which leads to personal agency. According to author, Nikofer Merchant, “onlyness” happens by centering innovation around personal agency.

Cultivate a Culture of Curiosity

Curiosity is defined as a hunger to know or a strange object. The Latin root means “to care,” so curiosity is carefully listening and following the natural desire of inquiry. Practicing curiosity allows individuals to gain more awareness of themselves and their diverse abilities. It’s a daily routine that invites them to become playful apprentices.

Through exploration and reflection, curiosity grows. It develops the way a rose grows, not in a controlled manner, but organically, as a force of nature. All each of us can do is care for it.

Organizations can nurture curiosity by encouraging teams to:

  1. Adopt a beginner’s mindset

  2. Challenge their assumptions

  3. Frame problems as questions

  4. Get uncomfortable

  5. Practice immersive empathy

Teach and Reward Improvisation

The experience of Emerging Co-Creation requires each individual to step outside their comfort zone and embrace not knowing the answers.

It replaces the need for control and acceptance with a desire to create space for the contributions of others. In the end, it constructively brings forth the collective knowledge of the group.

Improvisation is a technique that promotes the development of unscripted ideas. During exploratory discussions, participants practice it by saying YES, then building on the idea by adding their unique perspective with AND.

By remaining open and receptive to input from others and letting go of our own insecurities and preconceived notions, we create a culture of creative risk-taking and a shared sense of purpose.

Improvisation offers practical rules to create real, honest conversations using ​Yes, and​. It gives participants permission to free themselves and others from the burden of saying “no” and the risk of losing control by saying “yes.” The element of willingly sharing power gives individuals agency.

At its core, every conversation is an improvisation, which means we’re all improv artists, in a way.

Final Thoughts

It Takes All Leaders

How can we best help others change their behaviors?

By changing ourselves, letting go of our own limitations and giving them tools and techniques. When leaders demonstrate change, it gives others permission, space and an "outlet" for their own expression and release.

Finally, Diversity and Inclusion is often treated as a Human Resources project, when in fact, it’s a CEO’s responsibility.

It’s about changing the work environment through a culture of curiosity, which is a muscle that can be nurtured and strengthened over time. It’s on leaders to create an atmosphere that’s welcoming and to be vigilant when it comes to inclusivity. Only then can we show compassion in our desire to find solutions and alleviate others’ pain.

D&I and Success Go Hand-in-Hand

According to McKinsey, the most diverse companies are more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.

There’s a scramble to “keep learning,” and a diverse, inclusive workforce paves the way for new skills, new technology, new business processes, and new ways of interacting with the customers/consumers/co-creators.

Investing in a diverse workplace means employees feel connected and supported to do their best work. By empowering them, organizations tap into their ultimate creativity. The result: a higher return on human capital, better productivity, and more innovation.

If you’re ready for a new approach, AcornOak invites you to check out our Diversity & Inclusion package, designed to create a sense of belonging.

This post was originally published on Medium.

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