By Dr. Jean Latting, President of Leading Consciously
The 2023 Supreme Court decision against affirmative action in both public and private colleges and universities has many wondering about the implications for diversity practices in other industries.
Namely: what will be the ripple effects on the recruiting, hiring, and retention practices of corporate and nonprofit companies across the country? Will they maintain a focus on diversity or will this fade away?
First, let’s define what we are talking about.
What is diversity?
Some people think diversity simply means people who are not White. That’s not true.
Diversity means togetherness across differences — whether those differences include race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or any other demographic. In short, diversity implies “everyone.” And that includes White people as much as any other group.
People may conflate people of color with diversity because of the origins of the term. With the end of segregation in the 1960s, the quest began to expand the rights and privileges of this society to include Black people, then people of color and women of all colors. Since the assumption was White people were already included, diversity became the term to imply adding everyone else.
If you hear someone say, “We’re interviewing a diverse candidate,” you know they are interviewing a person who is not White. You can also know that this is an incorrect use of the term. “Diverse” applies to a group, not a single person.
Why is diversity important?
Diversity is morally right as well as practically beneficial to organizations.
It is morally right for those of us who wish to have a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. Embracing diversity ensures that all people, regardless of their demographics, are treated fairly and have a chance to reach their full potential.
Implicitly, this acknowledges the inherent worth of every individual and that historical injustices have baked systemic biases into organizational policies and everyday practices. Consequently, diversity doesn’t just happen. Leaders who want to reap the benefits of diversity must make a conscious effort.
Diversity is also pragmatically beneficial. Multiple studies have shown that diverse groups are more creative and better at solving problems than homogeneous groups. People in diverse groups listen more intently, challenge assumptions brought to the table, and look at problems from different angles.
It’s harder to take what you already know for granted when someone sitting with you is coming from a vastly different perspective. Simply put, diversity makes teams smarter.
Leaders who are skilled in tapping into a diverse pool of talents, skills, and experiences reap the benefit of more adaptable, competitive, and successful teams and organizations.
So where do we go from here?
Leaders in organizations that I talk with are not letting the Supreme Court decision detract from their commitment to diversity. They recognize the benefits. Yet leaders also want help in making diversity work. Consider these tips I give my clients:
Diversity is only the first step. Once you recruit a diverse team, the challenge is to set up structures and practices so that everyone feels included and able to contribute their best. If you throw a group of people with diverse perspectives in the room without guidelines or training, they may end up arguing instead of collaborating. Provide that training.
Recognize the inherent tension between diversity and homogeneity. It’s simply easier to work with people who have similar backgrounds and think the same. There is much less to disagree about. Yet, what is sacrificed for that inherent goodwill is diminished performance. It’s hard for people who think alike to come up with new solutions. To capitalize on the benefits of diversity, leaders must also learn how to foster inclusion and equity.
Make diversity discussable — Discussing their differences openly in a team makes it easier for people to surface varying perspectives and feel valued and accepted for them. Gay clients and students have told me how much more comfortable they were after coming out. Suppressing their identity had taken a toll they were not aware of. Openness about their identity, their partners, and their personal lives helped them feel more comfortable in their own skin, and as a consequence, they were able to exercise more initiative and leadership in their work.
If you are wondering why all of this is not easy, it’s because evolution predisposed us to favor our own kind. Our prehistoric ancestors bonded with those like themselves for protection from dangerous nearby tribes. We are simply more comfortable being with people like ourselves.
The solution: Be willing to put yourself and your team members in learning mode. Commit to learning together how to leverage your diversity so you may form an inclusive team. The goal is for all of you to become better at what you do – and better at being who you are.
About Jean K. Latting, DrPH, LMSW-IPR
Jean Latting is an organizational consultant and management coach. She has spent more than 20 years consulting and teaching for private and public sector organizations — experience she used to found Leading Consciously, an organization dedicated to building community and making a difference. Likewise, her scholarship and consulting services are dedicated to helping people fulfill their goals and give meaning to their lives. Latting currently resides in Houston with her husband, celebrating their family of children, grandchildren, siblings, 20+ nieces and nephews, and very close friends whom she credits with keeping her grounded and reminding her of what’s important.