#SXSW – Avoid Diversity Myths to Avoid Diversity Failures

Though great strides have been made on diversity and inclusion in the workplace in recent years, there are still several misconceptions and myths that are preventing businesses from creating truly inclusive environments for their employees.

Many of these myths come from a lack of understanding about the overall goal of D&I efforts, so in an effort to clarify these misconceptions, Jason R. Lambert, Ph.D, and Joy Leopold, Ph.D linked the myths to failures in their SXSW panel titled: Avoid Diversity Myths to Diversity Failures.

Misperceptions of Diversity

Many diversity myths stem from a misperception of the goal and purpose of diversity and inclusion in business. On one side, the media paints diversity as a magical solution to solve all of an organization’s problems, but the other side still doesn’t see the benefit to diversity in the workplace.

Why is it Important to Understand Diversity?

The modern workforce is constantly changing. Not only are employees getting older, but the workforce is becoming more racially and gender diverse, so in order to stay competitive in the labor market, companies need to focus on fostering inclusive cultures in order to attract and retain candidates.

The percentage of women in the workforce has only increased by 6% from 1977 to 2017. 

And even though participation in the workforce has doubled since the later part of the 20th century, the percentage of women in the workforce has only increased by 6% from 1977 to 2017. Why is this? Lambert and Leopold pointed to a few reasons, but mainly focused on implicit bias’ role in this lack of representation. We’ll get more into this in a bit.

First, What is A Myth?

Lambert defined a myth as a “popular misconception, or a widely held but false belief or idea.”

There are two myths that we focused on during this talk: the panacea myth and the members only myth.

In this case, a panacea myth is the belief that workplace diversity by itself can cure organizational problems whereas a members only myth is the belief of hiring applicants that fit a specific demographic profile.

Organizations who subscribe to panacea myths believe the idea that diversity is a numbers game, diversity is a quick fix solution for improving performance, and all diversity programs and strategies are similar.

“All we have to do is hire more people from different groups, and that’s it.” – Person who doesn’t understand diversity

Dispelling The Myth

In order to dispel this panacea myth, we need to address the failures that it causes. Both Lambert and Leopold then showed headlines from prominent news outlets such as, “10 Reasons Gender Diversity Can Make you Money”, and “Making More Money with Diversity.”

Each of these headlines tie diversity to money without acknowledging the other organizational benefits.

How to Avoid These Failures

First, we have to start by acknowledging that companies have three general perspectives:

Discrimination and Fairness Perspective
Companies who just want to check the box fall under this perspective. Often, when companies with this perspective have diversity without inclusion. If you want to know more about the negative impact of this strategy, listen to our latest webinar with Dr. Akilah Cadet.

Access and Legitimacy Perspective
This is when companies focus on targeting minority markets in order to sell their products. It’s less focused on hiring, and more related to marketing, but it still causes the majority of scandals we hear about in the media. Companies without diverse people in decision making roles are often the most likely to make these kinds of insensitive decisions.

Integration and Learning Perspective
This is what companies should strive to achieve. At companies with the integration and learning perspective, diversity is integrated into the leadership and all employees have access to information to make decisions. These companies are not just focused on market share, but actually demonstrate their commitment to increasing inclusivity in the workplace.

By recognizing what type of organization you are, you can begin the process of changing your perspective. It’s rare to have a company that is genuinely committed to the integration and learning perspective, but we need more companies to adopt inclusive practices before we can claim to have diverse and inclusive workplaces.

How to Avoid the Failures

It’s not enough to hand off these issues to HR. Lambert and Leopold highlighted the severe lack of Chief Diversity Officers in organizations today, which ultimately cause more stress for HR departments to champion diversity issues. Diversity shouldn’t fall solely on HR, it should be a concern of everyone on the executive team.

It’s not enough to hand off these issues to HR.

Both speakers suggested a few actions change agents can make to avoid the failures in their own organizations:

Improve training by practicing perspective taking exercises. The more empathy your employees have, the more aware of diversity failings they will be and the more willing they will be to help make change. Learn more about the importance of empathy in our recap of Michael Ventura’s SXSW session: A Crash Course on Empathy and Leadership.

Your organization should also be practicing goal setting. As an HR leader, you should make sure that diversity related goals are incorporated into these exercises in order to encourage more pro-diversity behaviors and attitudes.

Myth Example: Diverse Teams are Automatically More Creative

You might be thinking, “Why is it a bad thing to assume diverse teams are more creative?” And the reason is the same reason why you shouldn’t make assumptions about anything: because it sets unrealistic expectations.

Research shows that over time, diverse teams really can perform better, but it’s important to recognize why it is that they are more successful.

In a study that Lampert mentioned, researchers looked at the performance of homogeneous teams versus diverse teams to observe differences in teamwork, ideas generated, overall delivery, and range of perspectives. What they noticed was that homogenous teams were much quicker to arrive at solutions, but were outshined by the diverse groups in ideas generated and range of perspectives.

Not really surprising, right? It’s clear to us that teams made up of diverse employees are more likely than homogeneous teams to bring different experiences and perspectives to the table. Homogeneous teams can come to agreements quicker because they have the “just like me effect“, but in the end their ideas are not as successful.

How can we Avoid Diversity Fails?

Three easy steps: 1. Remember context! 2. Don’t make assumptions. 3. Hire diverse leadership members.

Conduct regular diversity audits so you can see where your organization is lacking and needs improvement. Engagement surveys can be incredibly helpful for this – learn more about how Reflektive can help and request a demo.