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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Inclusive Leadership: Leverage your Diversity for Optimal Results

Thanks to sponsors Manpower and the Land of Lincoln Training Center the following program was made possible.  I attended as well as fellow chapter members, UIS Student SHRM members, and students of my Managing Organizational Behavior & Human Resources Management courses. The following is posted with permission: 

By Libby J. Bair, Managing Organizational Behavior Student

An event made possible by the Central Illinois Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, this event featured Steve Wingert, CLM, and Liz Mikos. The two worked in tandem to explain the key concepts of the presentation. The presentation began with a short introduction to significant terms given by Steve. Particularly, it was important for participants to understand how exactly leaders, followers, and culture of an organization should be defined; this is important because each of the three factors, with effective intersection, are the main crucial components of a leadership model. Leadership, according to Liz, is a process about the “whys” of business process, while management is focused on the “how,” i.e. how to get things done in the business. Diversity and inclusion must be effectively intersected within these two pieces of an organization.

To explain the concept of diversity, Liz used an interesting comparison: an iceberg. Diversity, by broad definition, refers to the differences in people. Where the iceberg comes into play is to represent those differences we see in people and those we don’t see, which are more of a cognitive nature. According to Liz, companies are more and more realizing the importance of cognitive diversity in their everyday activity.

Inclusion was explained as the process of including those who show themselves as diverse individuals. In short, it is very easy for an organization to be diverse without being inclusive, just as it is also relatively simple for an organization to be inclusive without really being diverse at all. The purpose of the presentation Liz and Steve gave was to show leaders how to effectively implement diversity and inclusion in their organizations in ways that become second nature to a person’s internal thought processes.

A big part of implementing inclusion is leading others to combat their own unconscious biases and micro aggressions. Unconscious biases lead people to cling to people and things that are familiar to them, and steer away from the unknown, otherwise known as creating a “halo effect” around those who we identify closest to. As humans we are filled with constructed, complicated biases that deeply influence our actions but jeopardize our chances of success to sticking with what we see as a known quantity. Such biases greatly inhibit team performance.

Liz explained how convergent and divergent thinking may produce much different attitudes during group activity. Divergent thinking can produce fragmentation between individuals, as well as sub-division between those with those who see themselves as like-minded. When divergent thinking is harnessed into convergent thinking, along with a set of established criteria and evaluation for group work, inclusion is more likely to accompany the diversity that each team member brings to the table.

Liz and Steve introduced self-check methods for participants to use to ensure they are carefully questioning their own motivations for biases in their work/leadership position. Such methods include questioning whether a particular thought about a person or idea is helping you protect your own motivations vs. helping further along the best interests of the organization/group.

Essentially, the concepts modeled in the presentation are building blocks to practicing what Liz and Steve call “inclusive leadership,” which needs to be made a concerted effort by each leader. Proximity to diversity doesn’t create inclusion alone; active understanding of varying viewpoints, backgrounds, and personalities without prior judgment is necessary to transform diversity into full-blown inclusion. Liz and Steve encouraged all in attendance to think about how diversity and inclusion needs embraced throughout entire organizations, not just specific departments that appear to need a hand in these strategies more than others.

Through the ending case study, participants got a change to put the concept of keeping unconscious biases in check into action. Through screening 10 potential candidates for a diversity senior management board of 5, groups were encouraged to examine how unconscious biases based on the names and biographies given might have affected their final choices. This case study truly left participants, including myself, with an active mind; one must bring their unconscious biases to the forefront before they can work to alleviate them from their routinized thinking patterns.