We are made of Diversity

Insights

We are made of Diversity

It has always been like this, by nature.

October 27, 2020

Authors

  • Alessia Canfarini

    Director

Diversity is the essence of humanity”, said John Hume, Northern Irish politician, 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner. The difference is an "accident of birth", he explained, "it's natural".

It is a matter of fact that the heterogeneous is intrinsic in society. The phenomenon of globalization, then, has done nothing but give a planetary dimension to this element. Diversity concerns us; indeed, it belongs to us. Ignoring or denying it is useless.

How to deal with diversity?

The answer to difference is to respect it”, proposed Hume during the Nobel Prize ceremony. Diversity must be respected, accepted and transformed into value. It cannot be the end point but the starting point. Not a thick and impassable wall, but a flexible and constant connection. Not a border but a horizon. Aware that between saying and doing there is an ocean of variables, this principle is applicable to any form of aggregation: states, communities, organizations. Work teams as well.

Respect, acceptance, transformation into value. This is the essence of Diversity & Inclusion, called D&I, a management strategy aimed at creating "an inclusive corporate culture, based on the enhancement of individual differences as factors of innovation and improvement of personal and organizational performance".1

Nothing new. The ancient Romans already practiced diversity and they did it with some success, from the management of territories, to trade, culture and art. For example, the screenwriters Plautus, Terentius and Nevio often resorted to “contaminatio”, a writing technique with which two Greek works were combined to create a third in Latin. Basically, from the merger of two different entities a new, richer one was born. There were no categories defined once and for all, the penetrable borders became an opportunity for encounter and contamination between different cultures and perspectives. The Romans taught inclusion in this sense: the barrier is a fertile space for learning, never a limit.

The different is potential value, the ancient Romans said, and we agree with them. But if a technique is enough in literature, within an organization this is not enough. It is part of the DNA of every company to be a complex reality, in which a single action would have no lasting relevance. In these cases, a transformation process conducted with a systemic approach is needed, involving all individuals, their characteristics and interaction dynamics.

Let's start from the consideration that D&I is not a downhill path. Indeed, as happens in all transformations, perplexities and resistance can arise.

So why is it convenient for business to include and value differences?

Because although the efforts required are not few, the results are varied and tangible. The result of a strong focus on D&I is photographed by the Diversity Brand Index (DBI), a parameter that measures the customer-based perception of the level of brand inclusion and their real commitment to D&I. The effects generated by an inclusive culture have an immediate impact in terms of trust, loyalty and word of mouth. Ononly, the impacts given by an inclusive practice also affect the entire organization and the stakeholders who are part of it, generating benefits in terms of profitability and of business performance. On figures, it is evident that inclusion accelerates growth: in 2019 the brands that invested in D&I had a 23% increase in revenues compared to the previous year (Diversity Brand Summit). Also, the employees are the ones who benefit from it, because they feel fully included in the team's projects, develop a strong sense of belonging to the organization, freely express their ideas and potential by giving their best in work performance.

Where to start a D&I process?

From the differences that can exist in the group. According to a scheme developed by Lee Gardenswartz and Anita Rowe in 1994, there are over twenty possible diversity factors. The D&I's two experts had identified four levels of diversity that could be represented as a series of concentric circles. At the heart is personality, which is unique to every individual. In the second circle there is everything related to the primary characteristics of the individual, such as age, gender, language, ethnic group, dis-ability, sexual orientation. This is followed by the secondary dimension (residence, income, habits, religion, qualification, work experience, appearance, family of civil status origin) and the organizational dimension (professional skills, function, managerial status, area, unionization, place of work, seniority). Taken together, the four levels define the identity of the individual and determine his perception of reality.

It is not necessarily the case that all differences are present in a group, just as it is not necessarily the case that all realities must follow the same path. What matters is to have a 360 ° vision that is able to identify the maturity stage of the organization with respect to the inclusion and activation of differences with a view to enhancing them by clarifying objectives, priorities and impacts.

Starting from the experience in the field, we at BIP have created a D&I strategy on three levels of action: open door, open mind, open system. Although considered as consequential phases, these are the three key moments in the difference management process oriented to:[1]

· Making individuals capable of giving their best in their work

· Create new development conditions for your business.

The first step is the awareness and acceptance of diversity (open door), which is possible by parading once and for all the Veil of Maya that we have been used to wear, that way of seeing the world only from our point of view. To recognize differences within an organization, learning to accept and respect them, it is necessary to deconstruct stereotypes (which are also expressed with the language used), and to be aware of our behaviors of possible closure, non-knowledge or indifference towards differences. From awareness to acceptance.

Once the barrier of our "limiting beliefs" is broken, it becomes easier to recognize the value of diversities (open mind). To explain this passage, we can take an example from evolutionary theory. Each time an organism evolves, it leaves aside a piece of its DNA, which it no longer needs. Even D&I is an evolution and that piece of the genome that is no longer needed are the prejudices we leave behind. Having an open-minded approach in a workplace means recognizing that everyone carries value and that you can learn from diversity. In this phase of the D&I path it is essential to have a management prepared and ready to manage the differences of the people in the team, which can make the transition from recognition to enhancement possible.

If the perspective that individuals have of the reality to which they belong changes, it is possible to reach an open systemdimension, in which the culture of inclusion is possible and practicable. This is the fundamental step in activating differences, which become a tool for developing the potential of the individual and the organization. Teamwork of different people becomes the product and service development channel in which both employees and customers are reflected.


This organic modus operandi takes into account the entire organization, each individual and all the dynamics that exist between them, including the perception of inclusiveness in the workplace. Is the workplace I live in on a daily basis really inclusive? It is not enough for management to ask this question. It is necessary to ensure that the answer "yes" corresponds to an equivalent perception by the employees. Often a lack of reflection on this point is at the origin of a gap between the perception of the employees and that of the leaders. Bridging this gap means transforming simple attention to the issue into concrete action (source: Accenture). The difference lies precisely in this. The D&I slogan of a well-known client company that operates in the fast-good consumer industry says: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asking to dance”. One thing is going to a party, another thing is to be invited to dance in the center of the dance floor. You can feel lonely or uncomfortable even at the most beautiful of parties, if you are not the protagonist and have no one to share the moment with.

In recent years, attention to the issue of D&I has been steadily growing, so much so that it is sometimes even "abused". The risk that from a virtuous practice it becomes a fashion, or a mere facade of representation is not so unattainable. Diversity is a possible source of development, but on its own it is not enough: inclusiveness is the element that can transform differences into integration and business levers. In this sense, an example is the work of well-known players in the telco world, who have made D&I not a simple management strategy but a clear positioning of the company, developing a new, more advanced piece of the path. If internally D&I is applied through collaborative engagement practices, externally it translates into the sustainable purpose of promoting the development of a more inclusive society in which everyone can benefit from technology.

Talking about diversity only as an internal process within the company today seems reductive. It is a path that is born within the organization, but which looks to the society of which it is a part. It is not just a question related to the HR area. It is also about business and brand reputation. It was 1983 when Oliviero Toscani took photos of an advertising campaign for a Venetian company in the fashion industry that went down in history. Portraits of children of different ethnic groups, such as the image of a white woman nursing a black baby, have traveled the world and launched, perhaps for the first time, the idea of a universal product for everyone. A form of D&I ante litteram more linked to communication than to a management strategy, but which even then aimed at the position of the brand as an inclusive reality.

D&I remains today a possibility for change, not an absolute imperative. It is true that, if well managed, with the involvement of HR and management, a D&I path can become a lever for the business, contributing to the development of creativity, innovation and productivity. This also applies to the performance side: it was found that companies characterized by a balance between male and female presence are 21% more likely to outperform their competitors, while this probability rises up to 33% in the case of groups characterized by a good mix of backgrounds (2018 McKinsey & Company).

Having a work environment made by different people means having multiple points of view that meet and coexist in the operational moment, while pursuing a common result. From this point of view, large organizations are a bit like symphony orchestras. The strings, the woodwinds, the brasses, the percussions are sections of completely different instruments, but in constant dialogue with each other, all equally fundamental. Orchestral players see reality from a certain point of view based on the position they occupy, but they can never do without each other, even the different. The majestic and powerful sounding brasses can never cover the singing of the violins, they must always play together with them, never above them. Everyone works moved by a culture of absolute respect, which begins with the relationship with their lectern companion up to the director, the point of reference for the orchestra, the one who has the task of managing the various sections and identifying the points of friction between them. There is respect and there is trust. The musicians trust their colleague and know that he will enter at the right beat, they totally rely on the conductor who has full confidence in the orchestral players. Respect, listening, inclusion. One hundred elements, each different from the other and with their own recognized entity in the group, at the moment of the performance are in tune to the point of seeming one. Today a D&I path must aim at this: not only to include diversities, but to be able to connect them in a uniqueness, while keeping their identity intact.

In this regard, the design solutions we have experimented in the field with our customers are also different depending on the maturity and the managerial, organizational and geographical culture: from the establishment of networks of internal sponsors that give minorities the opportunity to quickly acquire visibility, the planning of themed D&I week and in the reference ecosystem, the creation of vertical communities supported by members of the ExCom, the definition of KPIs recognized in the annual MBOs of people managers, the bottom-up involvement on the initiatives to be undertaken, the customized support to specific target of collaborators (think for example of the generation of collaborators who, at a certain moment of their life are involved - like a sandwich - between the caring of elderly parents and the turbulent management of adolescent children).

Being different by freely expressing who you are, often requires courage. Nature teaches us that evolution is born with diversity. If everything remained the same, there would be no progress and freedom. Just as our ability to achieve uniqueness, not uniformity, in diversity will be at the same time the beauty and the testing ground of our degree of social, organizational and individual civilization, aware that diversity is the only thing that we all really have in common!

We are made of Diversity. It has always been like this, by nature.

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[1] Source: Studio D.U.O.

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