Diversity and inclusion in the new world of work

Over two articles Frederick Hölscher examines diversity and inclusion and urges leaders to adapt their procedures to meet the challenges of workplaces that are increasing complex and demanding

There is a new focus on the role of the apprenticeship in the world of work. They are not only chasing knowledge and learning new concepts, but they also constantly look for opportunities to positively impact their workplace, even if it is just to stimulate new thinking and challenging the status quo.

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) have been in the top 10 HR trends for more than a decade, but a defining characteristic of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the new world of work is the awareness that diversity and inclusion are socio-systemic issues, that go much deeper than viewing D&I through the lenses of humanistic values.

Seeing D&I as a socio-systemic issue highlights the importance of other forms of diversity than the demographic and sociographic forms like gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so forth. Cognitive diversity and stakeholder diversity should also be considered.

A shift in thinking about organisations as ecosystems as opposed to mechanistic systems underpins leveraging the value of stakeholder diversity in organisations.

It is clear, from discussion with level 7 apprentices, that the mainstream emphasis of D&I is still on the sociographics. Driven by policies and tracked by statistics, for many D&I has merely become a tick-box exercise and an HR key performance indicator.

One may ask, if you have a perfect sociographic mix on the board and in the management team of businesses, but they all think the same, have they sufficiently harvested the benefits of diversity?

The figure below shows the emergence of diversity over time. These three forms of identity (sociographic, cognitive, stakeholder) form three basic clusters that can be depicted as three DNA strands.  These strands work interdependently with each other, and as such add value to the formation of organisations in the new world of work.

Apprentices may do well to scrutinise the D&I strategies, policies and procedures in their workplaces, to see to what extent all three DNA strands are reflected and what is being done. But most importantly, what value do these strategies add to the business? As a practical approach, organisations would examine the KPIs of each and monitor its impact on organisational and individual performance.

Image: Hölscher F. (2017)

Each S curve, or DNA strand comes with its own focus, required skills and knowledge which brings with it a cultural awareness about the world and how organisations function.

This model helps Level 7 Senior Leader Apprentices make significant change to their organisation’s D&I policies, incorporating cognitive and stakeholder diversity.

1st Curve: Sociographic diversity

The focus of the first curve is to recognise the various sociographic and visible forms of diversity in light of the humanistic values of fairness, equality and equity, social justice, freedom of expression and so on. This space is often filled with advocacy and even activism. These D&I strategies are focused on cultural transformation, but also on uncovering discrimination, stereotyping and unconscious cognitive bias. This is still mainstream and many companies track their D&I success with statistics and use policies and procedures as an effort to embed it in organisational culture.

However, the importance of the first curve should not be underestimated; it brings with it important insights about cognitive bias, paradigm blindness and how leaders’ inflexibility on ideas can hamper innovation and growth.

A watershed moment in the diversity debate came with the McKinsey report of 2007 ‘Women Matters’, when it showed that more diverse companies are financially outperforming their peers. Suddenly D&I shifted from the HR desk to the desk of the CEO and built the foundation for the 2nd curve.

2nd Curve: Cognitive diversity

In various subsequent research on D&I cognitive diversity was discovered as the real value for business. The emphasis shifted from humanistic values as the main driver for D&I to include business value. The term cognitive diversity is used in its widest context to include; personality, the what and the how of thinking. The scope of the cognitive bias widens and challenges the notion of inclusion  from ‘cultural fit’ and conformance to that of tolerance of diversity as forms of inclusion. But it took it further to show the benefits of accommodating and even integrating diverse ideas to bring innovation through integrative thinking (Roger Martin 2009) and polarity management (Barry Johnson 2014).

A significant new form of diversity is emerging as a major challenge in the new world of work and that is the diversity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Human Intelligence (HI), what futurist Gerd Leonard calls algorithms and humarithms. The question that may be relevant is who will deal with this type of diversity, HR or IT practitioners?

3rd Curve: Stakeholder diversity

Stakeholder diversity is not new. By way of illustration, the awakening to sustainable business and triple bottom line theory, the shift from shareholder value to stakeholder value and the recent WEF emphasis on stakeholder capitalism are all evidence of the importance of stakeholder diversity for sustainable business success. Through their research, Hampden Turner et al. explained that companies who embrace and leverage stakeholder diversity outperform their peers three times over five years and 10.5 times over 15 years in terms of investment performance.

A shift in thinking about organisations as ecosystems as opposed to mechanistic systems underpins leveraging the value of stakeholder diversity in organisations. Viewing organisations as complex adaptive systems instead of well-oiled machines will reveal fundamental new perspectives in leadership, strategy, decision-making and organising the work. Business leaders may do well to explore new ways of thinking to embrace the future. As Peter Drucker says: the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It is to act with yesterday’s logic.

Perhaps a fresh perspective on D&I may contribute to the new leadership logic, but the power of diversity is not in recognising the various forms of diversity, but discovering the art of inclusion.

Frederick Hölscher teaches the Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship at Hult Ashridge, part of Hult International Business School.  

Frederick Holscher

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