Why Diversity Is About Much More Than Numbers

My notes from Wharton dean Geoffrey Garrett article’s on Why Diversity Is About Much More Than Numbers

  • Organizations is paying more attention than ever to diversity as a means of improving performance, fostering participation, a sense of belonging and mutual respect is a critical part of the equation.
  • There is considerable research which indicate that diverse organizations may enjoy a performance advantage. Diversity would improve the workplace thinking and decision making process thru better and wider diverse perspectives. But all around us today we also see instances where differences among people — be they countries of origin, educational background and social status, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, physical and mental abilities, or political ideologies — can also create polarizing frictions.

Four “should” to ensure that diversity is an asset for all organizations and for society as a whole.

  1. Diversity: Membership in your organization should reflect the rich array of diverse backgrounds and perspectives in society.

Two things are true in many organizations today. One, great efforts are continuing to be made to diversify their membership. Two, there is still a long way to go, not only in further increasing diversity itself, but also — at least as important — in creating an environment in which diversity can be leveraged for the benefit of individuals and the organizations of which they are a part.

My note:

However the diversity should reflect on the region on which the organization operates, this would ensure smooth operation and less friction with locals with respect to the organization operations. Diversity which include too many expatriate, would lead to other issues such as collision in culture and other administration constraint such as work permit or visa issues. This would hurt the organization even if there’s a slight change in geopolitics landscape of the region.

  1. Inclusion: Every member of your organization should be invited actively to participate in all aspects of your organization.

The point that recruiting a diverse organization is only the first step in realizing the full benefits of diversity was made in a way that really struck me at a panel on leading diverse organizations at last June’s Wharton Global Forum in New York. Janet Cowell, a Wharton alumna who is CEO of a great not-for-profit devoted to increasing the number of women in finance (Girls Who Invest), put it something like this: It is one thing to be invited to the party, but what really matters is being asked to dance.

It is one thing to be invited to the party, but what really matters is being asked to dance.

A somewhat more formal translation: Make sure your organization is diverse, but it is equally important that everyone in your community is invited to participate in everything you do.

My note:

Another example I can think off is one of the history of the Muslims, whereby the holy city of Madinah is going to be under attacked by non-Muslim from Makkah, whereby Muhammad SAW invited all of his companions which at the time included Salman al-Farisi from Persia. Based on his experience, Salman al-Farsi advised to dig a moat on the unprotected side of Medina and the planned worked based on his past experience in his homeland. (You can read further on this on the link below)

The Battle of Khandaq (Moat) or Ahzab

  1. Belonging: All members of your organization should have the confidence and support to contribute their unique perspectives to every aspect of your organization.

To continue the dance metaphor, when someone at a party is asked to dance, do they just shyly or reticently say, ‘No, thank you’? Or do they feel free to bust out their best moves, whatever they may be?

There is a really important point under the humor. Organizations can only really benefit from their diversity if all members in their community feel they truly belong, feel fully safe, and hence have the confidence to be themselves and say what they are thinking.

My note:

This reminds me of the Ray Dalio’s the principle, I believe the concept of brutal honesty and transparency is perfect (almost) for managing and encouraging diversity. Since, the transparency would eliminate prejudice which would improve harmony and lead to higher efficiency and better teamwork collaboration.

Step 4: Respect: All members of your organization should be respected for who they are and what they have to say, no matter who they are and what they have to say.

As my (Garrett) rewrite of Seinfeld makes clear, a precondition to one’s sense of belonging is the respect of others. When there is respect for everyone’s backgrounds, perspectives, contributions and points of view, there will be trust. Everyone can feel empowered to be their full selves.

“The full potential of diversity can only be realized when all members of an organization feel included, that they belong, and that they are respected for who they are and what they offer.”

This is the ultimate feedback loop for organizations that leverage diversity. It ensures that differences in backgrounds lead to an open sharing of the full gamut of perspectives embraced by all members of the organization, stimulating a rich diversity of contributions. Ultimately, it results in better culture, better decisions and better performance.

My note:

Here it is important to note that Garret refer to “full selves” not “true self”. I believe there is a difference, especially in the day and age where we seems to encourage authenticity as the gold standard for leadership. Yes, authenticity is important but the application and where to apply is also crucial so that you or any other leaders does not unintendedly damaged their reputation and undermine your authority. I have yet to master this, but as always there’s room for improvement which make life much more interesting.

As Nouman Ali Khan once mention, there are at least three (3) different faces we used in our life, one which we used with our family, one which we used in public setting and one which we used during our office hours. This is all our true self, but we are not 100% authentic all the time, but only a portion of our authenticity at one time.

In Summary, diversity is not so much about numbers, but in how the diversity improve our organization or team decision making approach and efficiency. Everyone has their own unique background, expertise and way of thinking which makes each of us different and that needs to be respected and appreciated. My analogy of this is that of plain water and coffee, the diversity should impact the organization as coffee impact the plain water, it need not to be in a lot quantity but rather quality is what matters.

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Categories: Current Issue, Personal Development

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