Reconciling Diversity, Inclusion, Bias, Qualification, and Culture Fit “Rightly”​

*Originally published on LinkedIn August 16th, 2019. Republishing includes added Table of Contents.

Table of Contents

Prologue

A Minute of Difference

The Situation

What’s the Mission?

How are YOU supporting Diversity and Inclusion in YOUR role?

Information and Analysis

Purpose and Intention

An Analogous Intermission

Hitting the Numbers

Phased Approach

Leadership, Development, and Education

Closing Thoughts on D&I vs. Culture & the Way Forward

Prologue

At the risk of being publicly trolled hard core, I admit it. That kid sporting number 48 and the terrible “reverse mohawk” or “friar tuck” style coif is, unfortunately, me, during freshman year of high school at Cranbrook Kingswood Academy in West Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

My purpose of sharing that photo alongside the headline above probably doesn’t make much sense to you yet, but it will. For now though, we can break the ice by having a laugh at my stupid haircut, lol. What a dumb ass, right? Smh. Palm, meet face. No slack.

Okay, now that we’ve had a laugh let’s get to the topics at hand. In case you’re under any illusion, this won’t be a quick read… unless you’re some kinda speed reader, I suppose.

However, my “brand,” if I have one, is founded on authenticity, competence, courage, and leadership, and there’s no shortcuts on this stuff.

The headline topics are such hot button issues that many dare not unpack them publicly as I will here, but my hope is that the thoughts I share might just plant one seed somewhere that affects even just a little positive change.

A Minute of Difference

As any Redleg (look it up!) can tell you, just one mil difference in Azimuth from a firing point will significantly affect the path of the round. The further two rounds travel with one mil difference between them the further apart from each other they will impact.

I use the picture above to example this concept, yet in minutes, not mils. With one minute of change two objects are only an inch a part on the two paths after 100 yards… but as they go further the distance between the two paths gets greater and greater.

I believe the same is true in life. Even just a slight change in the culture and norms of behavior we accept now affects much greater difference as that path endures into the future. #makeaminuteofdifference

Of course, I don’t have ALL the answers and so I want you to know that I welcome discourse and alternatives to any of my points of view too.

We can all learn so much from each other but not if we don’t engage. In essence, that is also the basic premise of diversity and inclusion. Everyone participates, intentionally, to elevate us all.

Appropriately, herein I’ll share my points of view on things to consider for high mindfulness of the tricky concept interplay between advancing diversity and inclusion for good, avoiding bias pitfalls, properly weighting qualification, and the manifestation of organizational culture around these concepts that represents the best ideals of American equality in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness in the professional world.

Oh, and by the way, getting this stuff right is great for business too.

The Situation

For the last six months I’ve been getting “plugged in” in a way that I never have before and establishing my public presence here on LinkedIn. While this time period has been transformative for me in some significant ways, it hasn’t been by design.

It’s just been one of those periods in my life of both tremendous personal growth and challenge that everyone goes through in different ways, if they live long enough.

And so, as I’ve been navigating a new chapter in my life I’ve been encountering a lot of great dialogue and positive signs which are uplifting and portend to me that in these polarizing times (which feel like such a tipping point in the evolution of not just America, but humanity as whole!) that “good” will prevail.

However, I’ve also encountered some very clear problems that remind me we’ve still got a long way to go… a really long way.

As we as a people advance social justice and diversity equality in society and the professional world, which is long overdue, it is of the utmost importance that we practice what we preach.

It is on US (you and me) to fix the systems that have failed US (everyone) in achieving more than we have in the world to foster human rights fairness for all humanity.

If we fail to do so we are part of the problem.

If we are not mindful we can make things worse, even with the best intentions.

This quote (from Last of the Mohicansthe movie) sticks with me as a metaphor to that point:

“Magwa’s heart is twisted. He would turn himself into what twisted him.”

If you haven’t seen the movie and/or don’t understand the context of that quote I recommend you check it out.

What’s the Mission?

There’s no question about it at all, throughout American history our society has disadvantaged the poor and pretty much everyone who isn’t white and male and heterosexual, systemically.

That’s a fact, and prejudices and bias in our institutions and systems must be f***ing crushed.

It’s sad that we haven’t made more progress than we have yet, but I am glad to see movements for social progress gaining steam judicially and in the corporate world.

We’re even talking about reparations. Hell yes.

As more and more corporate organizations are supporting progressive change in their cultures and values publicly, and using their power to influence positive social impact, I have been noticing various sets of effects and outcomes… and differences in points of view on how we should measure and assess progress.

One thing that has become apparent to me is that there is an amazing amount of unified positive conceptual effort being made along many social and professional equality fronts, but that in many cases that effort doesn’t seem to be making the kind of impact that it seemingly “should.”

Sometimes it almost feels like it’s really just noise with no effect.

To me, it seems like most people and organizations who are talking about these topics all have their heads wrapped around the same ideological types of missions overall to move in the direction of better “diversity and inclusion”, such as “gender pay equality” or “equal rights for all” or “pay transparency” or “veteran support” or “equal opportunity,” for examples, which is awesome.

However, something most people and organizations haven’t been discussing publicly that I’ve seen, which is of the utmost importance to getting the “ideal” results, is the actual operational desired end state they hope to achieve through their decisions… and why.

It’s great to have a mission… but without a clear goal of its desired end state it is not complete and can result in a great deal of inefficiently used and improperly placed efforts.

The dichotomy that exists in trying to measure and build diversity organizationally with intention yet to consider each person unique and not commodity is one of the toughest problems of qualitative and quantitative reconciliations to crack, IMHO.

There’s no perfect solution.

How are YOU supporting Diversity and Inclusion in YOUR role?

Recently, in a job interview, I was asked the question “how would you support diversity and inclusion in your hiring approach with candidates in this role?”

My response was quite simple, “I wouldn’t think about it at all. I don’t consider things like race or gender or things like that about candidates. I hire based on character, qualifications, aptitude for learning, and potential.”

The answer I gave seemed to puzzle the interviewer and it felt as if I had just given a “wrong” answer. I felt misunderstood.

And so I explained more that I had been reading a lot on it lately regarding corporate culture and further explained that put most simply it means that we make sure “everyone participates.” My interviewer looked at me like a deer in the headlights.

I was confused that they clearly didn’t like my answer, and so I tried to explain it in the way which I hoped would resonate more effectively, which is also about the best possible end state I can imagine concerning social equality progress on the whole.

I said “You know, like MLK said…” and offered the following quote by him:

“I have a dream that one day my children will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”

Of course, I use this quote meaning to attach all aspects of social equality (race, age, orientation, gender, religion, etc) to it, not just racial inequality.

I did not sense that the interviewer knew that quote as I did, nor fully understood it.

Ideologically I believe a version of that dream is the sentiment we all should seek to achieve as diversity and inclusion programs’ desired end state in the workforce and the world, but I realize making that happen and measuring for it is much more complex in practice.

Information and Analysis

Recently I read a great article about how Cisco Meraki approaches integrating Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) into corporate culture as a strategic program here while surfing LinkedIn. I like the philosophies shared in this article a lot, and also it explains some very important concepts on the topic which I’ll be using in some of my analysis, but it only paints part of the picture of things to consider.

Here’s a few bits I’ve pulled out for discussion:

  • Their D&I program’s mission seems to be “building a healthy environment in which everyone can thrive, regardless of who they are, who they love, or where they come from.” I like that.
  • This excerpt: “what it really means to have a completely diverse and inclusive workplace environment” What does that mean? Hmmm…
  • This excerpt: “as with most companies, they started with the idea around diversity being about representation — “do I have X number of purple people? What’s the purple people count?” Then they sort of moved to thinking about inclusion, like “how are people feeling? Do they get a sense of belonging?” Now, they’ve started to reflect on the actual implications of that. They’re thinking, “Alright, if we have belonging, how do we turn that into true collaboration? How do we turn it into true decision-making and business impact?””
  • VERY IMPORTANT: The concept of intersectionality. “There are so many aspects to what makes somebody a unique person.” and this excerpt that the “idea of intersectionality becomes so important in sort of driving some of this work.” I agree, and I’ll explain more on this soon.

In my words, therefore: at the core what D&I looked at in this way boils down to are ideas centered around representation and participation. Or, a culture where “everyone participates,” in a way. “Everyone” representing a diverse group that is intentionally inclusive so that “everyone” is engaged, valued, and “participates,” which inspires a shared understanding and culture of belonging… and cohesion.

But… who is “everyone”? What does that mean? I like the “bring your whole self to work” concept, but it doesn’t answer the question.

I also read LinkedIn’s report on gender insights a while back which planted some seeds in me to write on these topics as well.

LinkedIn did a good job of presenting it’s findings on the subject of gender trends in hiring using data driven insights with a balanced approach to their inferences. However, while in some ways the data shows progress, it also proves we’ve got big problems in our systems and are not hitting the “right marks.”

This article really made me ponder: what is our desired end state? What exactly are we trying to achieve?

Here’s a few of its findings:

  • Women are 16% more likely than men to get hired after applying to a job
  • Women are 18% more likely than men to get hired after applying to more senior roles
  • Women are 16% less likely than men to apply to a job after viewing it
  • Women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men
  • Recruiters are 13% less likely to click on a woman’s profile when she shows up in search

LinkedIn’s tips from the report are to market for diversity and to measure and strategize hiring around diversity based on data with consideration of industry trends.

However, LinkedIn’s report does not specify any ideal desired end state of these activities numerically nor adjectivally.

What’s more is that this report is based only on gender, which is only one facet of a fully developed system of true diversity and equality built into an operating organizational culture.

Just for good measure, in the interest of presenting more holistic set of information around current trends and thoughts on workplace equality, diversity, and culture initiatives here’s some other article I’ve read and recommend:

Those she/her/hers at the end of email messages are more than a passing trend,

Are Companies About to Have a Gen X Retention Problem?,

Millennials are the Largest Generation in the U.S. Labor Force,

Americans Finally Consider Women as Competent as Men,

Williams Institute LGBT Proportions of Population,

America’s Changing Religious Identity,

U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts,

By the Numbers: Diversity in the Workplace,

Three Surprising Diversity Statistics That Could Help Shape 2019, Dismissed: America’s Most Divisive Borders,

The Social Justice Sector has an Internal Racism Problem,

Now let’s get this straight..why do you want to hire me exactly? Vets deserve to know the bottom line. Hiring Veterans – Insight From a Career Military Officer (The .4%)

If you’re all caught up, it’s like I said before: there is a greater amount of effort and louder voices of awareness moving progress forward on many different fronts of D&I, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Truly, for us as a society to achieve real long lasting change that manifests the highest ideals of equality much more needs to happen than anything businesses can do internally even with the most well thought out approaches to D&I.

Laws need to change. Justice reforms need to be made. Education systems need to change. America, institutionally, needs to change… or rather, progress and improve, greatly.

However, with all that said, let’s be more clear about what D&I should seek to achieve statistically in business’s work forces.

To me, the answer is obvious:

0%.

No, that’s not a typo. 0%. We should be seeking to achieve 0% difference.

For example, the LinkedIn gender statistics above evidences huge numerical imbalance. Whatever the reasons are that it is how it is, the fact is that the outcomes are wrong in a sense of achieving equality.

The premise of equality and D&I as a line of effort is that factors like race, gender, orientation, age, religion, etc., should not affect people’s access to opportunity nor advancement nor compensation.

Therefore, mathematically, the “perfect” solution is that it should be 0% more likely that a woman, or man, or black person, or white, or christian, or Muslim, or gay, or straight, et al, gets hired than anyone else.

0% difference is the D&I KPI metric we should be seeking as a desired end state. A condition where opportunity and prosperity are no more likely to reach any particular group than any other, proportionally.

The crux of advancing D&I on the whole truly is a matter of changing qualitative ideologies more than anything at its core (I have a dream!).

However, businesses rely on data and metrics to quantitatively measure themselves in D&I progress, which is a very important aspect to enable “seeing ourselves clearly” too.

But, again, who is “everyone?”

Organizations that don’t approach their D&I metrics with respect to people’s multidimensional intersectionality will never truly achieve the levels of thought and experience diversity in keeping with its core ideals.

To explain further I’ve made this rollup of stats based on the numbers reported in the articles and websites I linked above:

While the implications of the statistics above are very eye opening, and, I hope, impactful too, they really only scratch the surface. Examining only the highest order distributions in silos fails to account for intersectionality in the diversity of people.

Theoretically, for a “perfect” numerical organizational approach to D&I that results in the “0% difference” organizations must achieve workforce populations of equal proportion to the various types of people diversities that exist in society.

Meaning, for example, that in America ALL businesses would be 50.8% women, 25% boomers, and 1% Hindu. If all organizations sought to achieve %’s that align to the whole population proportions the end state is therefore equal opportunity for “everyone” in the whole pool.

In addition, the implication is also that these same distributions would exist in the workforce subsets of hierarchy levels, functional areas, and across all industries too.

Alas, though, it’s not that simple of course.

This scenario relies on an underlining assumption that peoples’ personal choices would align to this symmetry, but in practice it’s unlikely to ever be exactly that perfect.

Let’s say you have 100 people in your organization.

To “achieve the numbers” you might have 5 post millenials, 5 LGBTQ, and 5 Asian people. However, if the 5 post millenials are all white and college educated, the 5 LGBTQ are all lesbians and black, and the 5 asians are all christian, then the numbers might add up overall, but you still actually have only a small sliver of subgroup diversity and a level of homogeneous representation of the “diverse” groups.

In my soccer team pic at the top, a surface examination could be perceived that the team “exceeded the standard” in Asian representation on the team with nearly 20%… and so “it’s diverse!” But it’s quite possible that everyone there is all one religion, which could be a huge factor that limits diversity of team thought growth.

Just having race representation or gender or orientation or religion, etc, does not necessarily equate to achieving thought diversity in and of themselves.

This is why there is no perfect solution.

Intersectionality is the reality of human nature and life experience. There are an infinite number of combinations of things that make us all who we are in life and the world which represents every individual’s set of experiences and perspectives.

A rich white person or poor white person can bring different sets of personal motivations, philosophies, and perspectives into the business environment from each other in significant ways, just as a gay person or bisexual might, or a christian Asian American or Buddhist Asian American might too.

Don’t even get me started on considering geographical thought & culture differences too, but suffice it to say this: Achieving true D&I isn’t as simple as making sure 51% of the people at your organization are women, “or” anything else.

Purpose and Intention

The first step for the highest potential approach is being clear on your purpose and intention.

Are you investing in D&I purely for business ROI or does your organization recognize it as a social justice responsibility too? Is it purely for money, or also human dignity?

The “right” purpose includes both, intentionally.

I’ve noticed a trend in most media promoting D&I that’s making the topic too safe.

That is, in most things I’ve read, the themes are centered around how great D&I is for the business case.

Like: “diverse workforces are more productive!” or “inclusive cultures improve work quality!”

Frankly, many organizations promoting their own Diversity and Inclusion initiatives cite these kinds of motivations in their PR campaigns.

It makes everyone feel great to read that kinda positive stuff.

However, many of these same (well intentioned) organizations are actually not doing anything more than making noise, self promoting, and creating their own echo chambers.

Making noise on these topics is good, but at the ground level things don’t just happen “right” without purpose being understood.

Organizations using numbers to advance D&I solely “for business” may actually just be engaging in social engineering (which is an enemy of D&I) and manifesting an insidious internal culture of bias (Magwa).

Businesses have a responsibility to society and to their communities. Advancing equality in diversity is good for business but more importantly it’s an investment of prosperity into society and humanity too… which is great for everything.

Aside from any business cases for it, we must advance organizational D&I across our work forces to uphold what is good, what is right, and to set the organizational example of the truest equality ideals that freedom and American are supposed to be all about.

Doing so will change society.

We don’t need to wait for laws, or the judicial system, or the education systems to institutionally catch up.

We can make minutes and degrees of difference in the trajectory now.

But, with no perfect solutions what are the courses of action to take for the best approach to organizational D&I to reconcile all these things?

An Analogous Intermission

Before undertaking the “friar tuck” look at Cranbrook I had a full head of hair. My “do” was modeled, I suppose, after Kurt Cobain… although my hair is brown, not blonde. In middle school, in Flint, I clearly stood out as an individual from my classmates… but at Cranbrook I did not.

There, I looked a lot like most everyone else. However, I didn’t feel like everyone else.

While, as a white kid, I was part of the overwhelming Cranbrook racial majority, as a poor kid from Flint and an interracial family my life experiences and philosophies were very different from most of my white affluent peers.

Like the line from Nirvana’s Lithium (“I’m so lonely, that’s okay I’ll shave my head”) one night I got the idea to go “reverse mohawk” and went for it, because I wanted to look different from everyone else.

Just as I inwardly felt that way, I wanted to represent myself as such in appearance.

I deliberately didn’t go traditional mohawk because that would’ve lumped me in a group perception with the rich punk rock kids.

I undertook that haircut to make myself look completely unique from anyone else, which is how I felt inside.

There was passion in my decision to wear that hair even though I knew it would look stupid, and the first days people saw it in class after I did it the ridicule from the popular kids didn’t phase me at all.

However, my world religion teacher taught me a lesson that really made me think more deeply about it, which is also a very important aspect to consider alongside initiatives to implement D&I.

He explained: “Josh, you did this to purposely not be like everyone else. However, by doing this you really haven’t thought for yourself because your decision is still ultimately based on the opinions of others. You have let others’ opinions control your decision making.”

I realized he was right and went to a full shaved head soon after just to even it out and start growing it again.

Hitting the Numbers

In the table (way) above all I did was give numbers by population that represents the diversity in our country.

I didn’t cover any of the disparity in unemployment rates or income levels between genders, different races, age groups, religions, etc, but if you look it up the disparity is staggering, and disgusting.

In undertaking a numbers based D&I approach the biggest pitfall is treating people like commodities and not individuals, and judging them on characteristics which should not have any bearing on their fitness for opportunities.

Doing so is qualitatively exactly the type of behavior that D&I is intended to fight against.

However, it is also reality that manifesting “total” D&I and equality of opportunity most expeditiously entails taking action to advance it by seeking people specifically for their “protected” qualities, in the name of social justice responsibility.

I openly admit that I have made hiring decisions before purposefully to hire for diversity.

Throughout my entire 20+ year career the technical fields I’ve been a part of have had very few females and minorities at all. Diversity is good for business and advancing American ideals.

Now, that’s not to say hire unqualified or incapable people purely for injecting diversity. And, if you are using this kind of targeted approach to even out severe homogeneity you must also be prepared to properly introduce diversity into the team and invest the extra time and intention into actualizing inclusion alongside it.

Many see risk in the unknown and simply won’t invest the time it takes to understand it better to properly assess. Every time we do this we’re part of the problem. The path of least resistance is what’s familiar, and it’s an easy excuse to propagate bias.

Ironically (or maybe not), many that exhibit the most toxic biases in behavior will excuse their own inaction as an act of fairness: treat everyone the same.

Real leaders know: You DON’T have to treat everyone the same. You DO have treat everyone fairly. But to know what is fair for each person you first have to know them well enough to assess them fairly.

While it may seem racist to put forth the notion that “I need to hire a black person” or sexist to say “I need to get a female on the team,” I assert that the cultural and organizational capabilities needs of businesses and our society to truly thrive give good cause that doing so is both morally and legally okay in certain circumstances.

It’s fair. It asserts fair dealing into your culture and puts value on enduring investment in the pursuit of greater shared understanding. It instills a sort of growth mindset that can elevate organizations’ cohesion internally, and externally too with customers and the public.

Business law supports the idea that for certain roles “protected” aspects of a person can be used as qualifiers. For example a requirement that the head of a religious non-profit being someone who practices that religion, or that exotic dancers need to be the gender associated with a venue’s customer base gender preference.

Just the same there is merit to the business case that homogeneous work forces cannot compete in the market with the same level of effectiveness in some ways as those that have work forces which better represent the makeup of their customer base identity.

Especially as the barriers to global business and democratic ideologies are torn down this will becoming increasingly true.

Yet, it’s a really slippery slope and we cannot lose our sense of valuing all individuals. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Therefore, if your organization’s work force is clearly skewed towards homogeneity it probably is the right thing to audit and action on your organizational D&I using a numbers based approach.

However, it is imperative in this pursuit to build diversity matrices that go deeper than surface level and do the due diligence to account for as many factors as you can collect data on to get a clearer picture of your workforce’s intersectonality of diversity.

Do not silo your approach to assessing your pool between factors.

And USE the data to get as you fairly can to achieving 0%.

Using my table above as an example, don’t stop at we’ve got 51% women and 49% men. Dive deep. Go all the way.

Do you have appropriate proportional representation of LGBTQ across race AND gender too? Have you accounted for people’s geographical backgrounds and religious upbringings as well? Figure out the whole matrix across age, religion, education, and everything that we view as “protected.”

It’s not easy to audit your organization in this way, but it’s not meant to be easy. There’s no shortcuts with People.

I believe many organizations are engaging in this level of analysis of D&I as a program that requires statistic design, which is good.

However, where I see issues occurring is in the lack of transparency. Meaning, if you want to lead D&I by example don’t do it covertly.

Publish your numbers. Advertise the qualifications you’re seeking. Stand by your conviction and rationale. If your intention truly is for social good alongside business interests it will show.

If you have 99 men, zero women, one role to fill, and your intent is to hire a female, put that in the job description. Or, don’t post the role for public application, go recruit for it.

Sooner or later an organization will take steps like this openly (whether deliberately or not) and it will trigger court cases. However, in America, that’s often the only mechanism to affect changing laws and establishing better standards than the precedents we have.

Does your company have the courage to lead the charge boldly in this way?

Making omelets requires cracking eggs. However, the reality is that the flip side of taking action in this way to advance D&I inherently propagates a level of discrimination as well.

As such, this kind of approach should only be taken in circumstances where there is huge diversity disparity. As organizations progress in making themselves diverse and inclusive in line with populations’ proportions and intersectionality there must be some acceptable levels of margin of error.

You can’t go to fractions of people, and people always have choice.

Organizations holding themselves accountable to an exact number of people by diversity category, and especially doing so for specific roles, goes over the line of advancing diversity for overall social good and into having become discriminatingly twisted itself, like Magwa.

Phased Approach

I see the overall mission of any organization as a three phased approach.

Phase I is planning. Audit yourself. Build your framework. Establish the clear goals and plan.

Phase II is implement mechanisms to reach balance, even if it means “targeting for diversity”, action on it, make it happen. The further off you are the more aggressive the approach should be, the steeper the curve, and the more time and resources you need to invest.

Measure along the way and account for natural attrition. Don’t push good people out, but as personnel changes are made be intentional towards your glidepath.

Hire and promote for diversity. This is not to say to unqualified people, or even to leave critical roles unfilled until you get the right “diverse” candidate. But achieving balance should always be a driving force, in the long game and short.

Here’s an idea: businesses, invest in your local communities!

I went to an elegant WeWork spot not too long ago in San Francisco. It was so posh and classy inside. Went I went outside there was a pile of human shit (crusty, not fresh) five feet from the door and all around the block were crackheads and the impoverished.

There is win win in businesses investing in bringing tech access, education, and skills training into under served and under represented communities and populations. It helps the world and builds you a talent pipeline.

Take actions to reach 0% in the short and long game.

But be transparent about all of it. That’s leadership.

The numbers will never be “perfect” but it is important to benchmark across industries, choice variations, and population areas, among other things, quantitatively. Keep yourself honest. DO allow some margin of error all the while to be balanced and consider every individual on the whole purposefully. Develop intersectionality acumen.

Alongside advancing the numbers advance the ideals. For example, it’s a great idea for people to use their pronouns in their email ID lines if they want, why not?

Everyone doesn’t have to agree about each other’s personal life choices and beliefs, but organizational cultures should advance behaviors that show honor to everyone’s freedom and that people should treat each other with respect, regardless of personal judgments.

Implement and enforce robust, fair, and transparent measures of performance and recognition. When I was in the Army we could all look up what everyone else made each check. The pay tables are public information, and we all knew how the promotion system worked, by regulation.

To solve problems you first have to identify them clearly. Have courage and address the issues head on and outright.

Phase III is when we have achieved “total equality” D&I. We’ve team built our culture around it to achieve cohesion and belonging in the qualitative end state, which should also be pretty close numerically.

At Phase III the inherent implied task is that everyone has achieved a much better appreciation of diversity, an inclusive shared understanding, and awareness of how to assess people fairly across “protected” cross cultural dimensions and attitudes.

By this point we should have implemented systems and processes which better consider character and qualification in judgements of all individuals which are disciplined against bias…

…and everyone can get in where they fit in with everyone else based on the merits fairly.

If we have achieved that then we no longer need to target, and so we can stop making protected features a matter of qualification at all.

Leadership, Development, and Education

86% of my professional career background is that of Service in the Army. As such, and given that the Army is a much more mature institution than any companies that I can think of off hand, I often can’t help but assess corporate culture identities, initiatives, or lacks thereof with a comparative lens to things I learned in the Service.

Now, make no bones about it, there’s a whole lot the Army can do to improve its ways of doing some things which I believe it can learn from corporate culture.

However, a couple of things that the Army always did very well on the whole while I was in are making sure that EVERYONE understood the “standards,” and putting deliberate effort and resources into training and developing leaders on how to enforce and uphold them.

In the Army there’s plenty of people who can’t or won’t meet the standards, but for the most part everyone knows and enforces them.

Whatever approach organizations might take to implementing and/or improving their D&I programs the MOST important thing that MUST also be done alongside them is educating their people on the standards, expectations, and vision ideologically that the organization wants to enforce with regard to D&I.

In the Cisco Meraki article above a point that speaks to this explains:

“A lot of times, people want to silo this work. They want to say, “Okay, inclusion and diversity and belonging (D&I), they’re over here, and the rest of business strategy sits over there.” But it becomes really difficult for most businesses to have so many focus areas”

Remember, “everyone” must “participate.”

Teamwork makes the dream work.

D&I expectations that are not informed to people, taught as a portion of core organizational values, and educated into the organization’s workforce to propagate the knowledge of both “why?” and “how?” to weigh and uphold D&I factors in things like recruiting, hiring, firing, promotions, raises, day to day work, etc, will never achieve the outcomes in decision making and progress that is the purpose of the program.

Organizations that want to achieve the truest form of equality, fairness, & prosperity with a high performing and diverse workforce must have mechanisms to teach decision makers over people (and everyone) to be cognizant of their biases and to keep D&I concepts top of mind.

Furthermore, there must be mechanisms for enforcement of its ideals as appropriate upon those that misstep.

Once, after my final interview for a role and company that I was VERY enthused about yet did not get offered, I got the bad news from the recruiter for the role and asked for feedback in a phone conversation.

When I asked “Why?” I had not been selected, the recruiter, a really nice guy, could only explain to me that “The team liked another candidate better.”

Now, there could have been any number of reasons that was the “real” reason I did not get that offer.

However, I was definitely highly qualified for the role and would bet a dollar that I have more proven experience and achievements in the field of that role than the person who got hired instead of me.

Don’t worry, I’m fine, but hiring who we “like” more than who is “best qualified” is a very common tendency which mishandles “culture fit” assessment with regard to building work force thought and experience breadth of diversity aligned with D&I.

At all organizational levels the emphasis and understanding of how to judge “culture fit” properly with respect to qualifications often gets lost in translation and works against D&I.

The reality is, unfortunately, that there are an overwhelming majority of people in hiring, promotion, and overall leadership and management roles – especially at the lowest and mid-tiers in organizations – that have never actually been taught the disciplines of leadership and management techniques, nor how to properly assess making these these kinds of decisions with them for the ideal good of the business.

Often people in decision making roles don’t fully understand that the main business purpose of D&I is to invite qualified people (“everyone”) on to the team who ARE NOT like “us” to help make “us” better in ways they don’t even know.

When something is familiar it’s easy to assess more quickly. When something is different it takes time to first understand it before it can be assessed as effectively. No shortcuts.

Similarly, at the ground level recruiters, hiring managers, and anyone in charge of people decision making, should be given instruction on things to be mindful of to better assess what is unfamiliar, and the tools to see it through… and given the extra time it takes to do it.

Many points of social interactions are misunderstood across boundaries of experience difference between people that get factored into their judgements and decisions. Bias. It’s pervasive.

We must intentionally train people to check their assumptions and judge on merits not bias more effectively.

IMHO, the lack of leadership & management education and training that is given to people who find their way into people decision roles is the biggest root cause of most organizations’ cultural and personnel problems (hiring, pay inequity, employee retention, performance management, etc.). We are taking too many shortcuts with people!

As a Management and Leadership disciplines professional I’m actually pretty offended about the amount of ignorance that exists when it comes to my craft not being recognized across work forces as the technical discipline that it is.

For example, marketing or IT roles often cite requirements for education in marketing or IT, but Management or Leadership roles normally only cite experience requirements overseeing people or a certain type of function, but not any type of education or training in the core disciplines themselves.

I’ve veered slightly off topic here, but the point is this: culture, fairness, and equality aren’t just things that “happen” correctly operationally in line with the intended vision a company might have simply by saying “diversity and inclusion are important to us!”

Rather, without education and training across the entire team, control mechanisms, and leadership example behind it, organizations will get results indicative of inconsistency and inequality in how D&I ideals are actually being put into application.

The tendency, in the absence of education and enforcement, is that most people lean towards the familiar. This misapplication can lead to inappropriate actions with people who are “diverse” but not actually qualified, or qualified but not invited because they aren’t familiar.

No matter what quantitative or qualitative approach organizations take to bolstering D&I, it cannot be done in a vacuum to get the most impactful results. The standards must be communicated and educated among the whole team, and especially those in leadership and management roles who will make the decisions and set the examples of conduct for how they are implemented.

Closing Thoughts on D&I vs. Culture & the Way Forward

More and more organizations these days are understanding and taking action to build Diversity and Inclusion into their cultures for the purpose of elevating their overall effectiveness in business and in the name of social good, which is a great thing.

However, across organizations there are also huge misunderstanding abounding about what D&I really means and what organizational culture really consists of.

Why Organizational Culture matters and how best to Decipher it!

An organization’s actual culture is ultimately the sum of things that makeup how well its intended values are actually put into practice in its people’s norms of behavior.

The purpose of D&I in its essence, especially where it’s most needed, is to break down cultural barriers and rebuild it with a greater sum of ideas and philosophies than it had before.

However, many organizations intending to embrace D&I in their culture haven’t gotten it quite right yet.

There’s many articles I’ve seen that explain that company culture is statistically more important to most professionals than compensation, and that the top reasons people leave organizations is for disappointment in “culture” or “leadership.”

Well, we throw these buzzwords around without unified understanding of their meanings, and that’s a major part of the problems too.

For example, some companies as an organizational value might say: “We want workers to be comfortable. There’s no dress code, wear what you want!” For the most part, this kind of philosophy results in nearly everyone dressing “down” as much as possible… t-shirts, jeans, whatever.

While well intended, what can happen, as in any group think, is that what manifests is not always a “culture” of “comfort” for all.

Meaning the culture becomes “dressing very relaxed.”

What about the employee who is comfortable in suits, or dressed very nice? Being the lone suit or dress wearer among a group of people in jeans can make an impression that the person isn’t a “culture fit,” when the reality is that the actual culture that has manifested isn’t upholding the true intended organizational values, nor upholding D&I.

Similarly, organizations that talk a good game about D&I but don’t actually implement it well can become highly biased echo chambers that promote a culture of reputation above actual performance. Aka, “spotlight ranger”ing, which is toxic.

The business purpose of D&I is that everyone is valued for their differences, not for fitting a mold, and that the unique strengths of everyone across the spectrum fills in the gaps of each others ignorance and cross levels those strengths to the weaknesses to make the whole team a juggernaut of synergy.

A high performing fully represented community forging forward towards mutual goals.

In order to ensure that the true merits and intentions of D&I programs make the proper impact befitting the efforts, organizations must be clear on their purpose, intent, mission and end state, transparent in their approaches to reaching it, commit the resources and time to making it happen, and invest the time to educate and train their personnel who will uphold D&I ideals in practice for the good of the team, the business, and social progress.

We can reach a point of judging everyone not by who they are, but rather by the content of their character, skills, and actions fairly and equitably.

If we continue to break down the barriers between all people we will affect lasting change and realize the societal benefits that dreams are made of: 0% difference in opportunity for prosperity.

It only takes a minute to create lasting and impactful degrees of change.

One Comment on “Reconciling Diversity, Inclusion, Bias, Qualification, and Culture Fit “Rightly”​

  1. Pingback: (4) BLUFs: Reach Out and Touch Someone

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