Even though diversity is a much talked about subject, many of us wonder how it impacts our work. Does it really matter?
This is the third article in a three-part series on diversity inspired by Steven Sels, the CEO of Primagaz. His first message addresses the bottom-line benefits of integrating 19 different nationalities in his Parisian offices.
It’s snowing in Paris. A layer of white flakes changes what is visible and how things previously hidden, now appear.
Snow, more specifically comparing the sun-filled and snow-covered view of the same scene, provides a visual image of benefits of diversity.
Switching Paradigms – the Positive Perspective
On my walk to the Metro, I pass by a patch of unkempt, sprawling nettles.
Today, with a dust of snow, these weeds appear just as delicate and ethereal as the flowers caringly planted that grow beside them.
It’s quite refreshing, both literally (!) and figuratively. How do you feel around a person who always finds faults? Whose company do you seek: the shoe salesman who goes into the jungle and asserts, “No one wears shoes. There is no market.” or the one who discovers, “No one wears shoes. What opportunity!”
It is energizing to observe what is good and admirable. When looking out for the mishaps, we miss the qualities. We find what we seek.
Noticing the Unseen
What surprised me the most is not what the snow covered…but what it revealed.
The size of the tree trunks. The wire fence.
On a sunny day, when I look at a tree my eyes focus on the network of branches and the promise of leaves. These branches covered in white blended into the light grey sky. It’s the tree trunks that stand out, a blotch of dark standing out like a sore thumb.
A friend is launching a start-up. She has product characteristic without being sure of her market. Oops! It’s time to step back and get the big picture. Her mentor shared, “You have beautiful leaves. Now grow the tree!”
Intellectually, this made sense. Yet it remained head-knowledge. Today as we walked in the snow and the white branches faded into the light gray sky, the tree trunks loomed larger than usual. She “got it.” Without the tree trunk (understanding the market need), the leaves (her company’s specific solutions) don’t matter.
The snow uncovered the fundamentals.
It’s the wire fence that surprised me the most. I rarely noticed the slender cross wires. Now each wire measures 1cm high with snow. What used to be a quazi-transparent barrier is now quazi-opaque.
It’s like the H & M “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” hoodie worn by a black boy. The campaign did not register with the all-white board of directors until The Weeknd cancelled his marketing contract. (How many lost weeks and dollars went into seducing him and then negotiating and signing the agreement?!) Negative press abounds. Good-will took a dive.
The snow revealed how something that seems innocuous to one group could be restrictive to another.
Diversity MATTERS and has consequences.
Diversity MATTERS and has consequences.
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Diversity Accelerates Competitiveness
Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor and author of Teaming: how organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the Knowledge Economy, reminds leaders that although most incentive and promotion packages are based on individual performance, teamwork remains the essential ingredient for success. In the speed-driven Internet economy, the organizations that prosper are those that create teams that learn together faster.
When everyone thinks the same way, learning suffers. Less surprise. Fewer questions. Less conflict. Fewer solutions.
Which brainstorming session would you prefer attending?
The meeting in your corporate auditorium with people you regularly work with all dressed in their customary suits
The session beginning with surprising trust-building exercises, led by junior members of the team…
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
Diversity Reduces Risk
Diversity is like investing in a portfolio of stock vs. solely in one company or industry. The advertisement campaign may go sour in one organization; it’s unlikely that all competitors make the exact same decisions.
Edmondson asserts that high-learning organizations (companies, families, classrooms…) allow risk-taking and its corollary, failure.
They systematize learning as of the beginning of the discovery process and at every step along the way to catch bloopers while the stakes remain small.
It’s easier to change course at 500 meters into the journey than 20 km into the hike. In addition to less backtracking (and the related negative emotions), finding the “wrong turn” and getting on track is more expeditious.
Diversity Brings Discomfort
A client spoke of their corporate culture: new hires with potential integrate the “Fast Track” where both they and the company invest in their managerial development. It’s an intense program which generates elite graduates with ambition and proven grit…who also think alike.
When the company merged with a previous competitor, the newly created organization was led by a “Fast Track” graduate. Over the next year, all of the professionals from the previous company resigned from the new organization.
The stock price of the parent company also took a deep dive and management announced massive job cuts. Is there a relationship?
Discomfort of diversity now could save from the greater pain and cost of job loss later.
Be Diverse in your Diversity
Your workplace is more traditional? Start by actively cultivating diversity at home. We are each responsible for our own learning.
Try one of these:
Connect with your teen by doing an activity that’s in their comfort zone.
Have you tried an Escape Game together? A stand-up comedy show?
Explore different cultures through food.
It’s a great way to explore diversity with kids. This week try Black Ink Risotto. Next week how about Curried Tofu. So what if the kids don’t like it. It’s one meal…and a conversation that can build over weeks.
Do you work with numbers and pride yourself in rational thought? Take a MOOC on emotions or a drawing class.
Or if you artistic, sign up for a logic-driven coding course.
Get inspired by Keith Ferrazzi, entrepreneur and author of Never Eat Alone, and co-host a dinner party.
You invite half the guest and your friend invites people you do not yet know. As you mingle and linger in the comfort of a home, you grow your network and your comfort zone.
Build empathy as a family and volunteer for a food drive.
Listening to the stories of the guests challenges one’s stereotypes.
You can be a catalyzer for diversity in your office. Practice at home makes diversity easier to implement at work. You’ll have intriguing stories to share at the coffee machine and become a resource and encouragement for others seeking ways to add spice to the team.
Stay tuned for upcoming insight on management inspired by the Paris snow storm.