A Department of Labor report on the glass ceiling noted that “what’s important [in organizations] is comfort, chemistry, and collaboration.”

Chris Argyris, business theorist and professor, says there’s a universal human tendency to organize our lives around remaining in control and winning.

Might these hidden needs be the reason most companies have failed at incorporating diversity as a normal business practice despite all the research that demonstrates its positive impacts on the bottom line?

  • 49% of Fortune 1000 companies have one or no women in their C-suite
  • People of color comprise 36% of the workforce but hold only 4.5% of Fortune 500 CEO positions
  • 46% of people surveyed by Workplace Options believe that diversity makes a company better

Diverse voices and opinions introduce discomfort. Practicing inclusion challenges who is in control. Making diversity a business-as-usual practice requires moving beyond a culture based solely on numbers and economics to creating a workplace where both the bottom line and inclusion are equally valued, measured and rewarded.

Diversity is more than an exercise in numbers. Some companies are statistically diverse yet are not inclusive. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to the leaky pipeline for people of color and women not holding more senior level positions because their presence disrupts comfort, chemistry, and collaboration.

To foster a culture of economics and inclusion:

  • Aim for intentional discomfort. Learn to work with and appreciate the tension alternate points of view bring. Marshall Goldsmith, author and executive coach, advises, “Using tension of diversity as a positive, rather than viewing differences as negative, a well-rounded diverse team will be able to produce valuable brainstorming sessions, imaginative problem-solving and decision making, unique perspectives on strategic planning, and inventive product development ideas.”
  • Make inclusion a participative sport in which all employees play. Move beyond the mindset that diversity is fulfilled by headcount reports. Drop the we’re-all-in-this-together platitudes that aren’t backed up with practice. As Dean Debman, CEO of Workplace Options, points out, “Diversity is an idea that’s often discussed but rarely explained. Business success is dependent on new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. … This fact is precisely why diversity is so valuable, because it brings new perspectives into an organization.”
  • Challenge the organization’s existing culture at every turn, questioning what scientist and author Peter Senge describes as “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”

Effective leaders must toss aside cookie-cutter thinking and practices and be willing to accept tension and disruption as they create workplaces where there’s truly equal opportunity in pursuit of positive business results. “[Diversity} definitely leads to a stronger bottom line,” notes Robin Taub of Robin Taub Financial Consulting. “Return on equity, return on sales, return on capital, share performance, and stock price growth.”

Jane Perdue is a leadership futurist, speaker, writer and founder of Braithwaite Innovation Group. Jane is @thehrgoddess on Twitter and blogs at LeadBIG.

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