Diversity Boxes – ticking and talking

The Schumpeter column of The Economist took a run at diversity this week with the hypothesis that fatigue is big part of the problem. This fatigue appears to take different forms:

  • We hear about it far too much (Enough already!)
  • We hear about it but nothing changes (Not enough yet!)
  • We hear about it but what does it really mean (When is enough enough?!)

A look at the article’s comments section (which is always a dangerous move), reveals everything you need to know about the multitude of issues attached to the surprisingly complex word. Doubts and critiques expose some deep philosophical questions, as well as some statements that one is surprised to see in a written format (or not surprised, if you tend to read the comments section of publications).

A couple of things are clear about diversity:

  1. This idea has been getting attention of late. (I recall a similar trend bubbled up around the multi-generational workforce in the last decade or so. Maybe this, too, will pass or linger.)
  2. The word has many different interpretations and understandings
  3. Consistent with 2, ideas vary on whether an organization needs it and, if so, how best to get it.

One of the ideas that the article attacks is diversity as a “tick-the-box activity. Fittingly, differing narratives surrounding “diversity” brings one critique that states the box-ticking organizations actually deserve credit because at least they are doing something!

Is it reasonable to say that the merits of box-ticking depends on the contents of the box?

There may be some consensus that filling the ranks with “the token [insert statistically under represented group member]” probably doesn’t work for anyone. (But I can imagine being challenged on that statement.) So, we should stay away from those kind of boxes.

Similarly, awareness building (especially when the topic is on heavy rotation in media) can also wear thin. So, maybe it’s not enough to “tick the box” on the Diversity Lunch & Learns.

If we are trying to prevent an over-reliance on predictable cognitive biases in important decisions, maybe we can tick the box on the presence of such initiatives as:

  • panel interviews for new hires
  • formal meetings of the senior leadership team to discuss and determine merit bonuses for employees above a certain level
  • determining tangible indicators to test the connection between our idea of diversity and our idea of performance

This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it a collection of best practices. Well-intended efforts to “do the right thing” can quickly get lost in the contentious world-view debates that risks making the situation worse. We are convinced in the merits of digging into an idea like diversity to understand how it fits into the business and find some clear ways to track the progress of distinct efforts even if that means ticking some boxes… but only the good boxes.