Dr. Marshaun Hymon, Director of Learning & Advisory Services at Grads of Life, discusses the right mindsets that can drive equitable and inclusive cultures.
When an organization works to improve diversity, equity and inclusion, leaders tend to privilege a shift in policies and practices. While clearly articulated and well-codified policies and practices can drive significant change in an organization, we must not stop there. Because human beings, with their own experiences and belief systems, are responsible for carrying out and implementing these changes, it is also important to consider the mindsets present in an organization. The right mindsets can drive equitable and inclusive cultures, and, importantly, many others can subtly but powerfully hinder DEI progress.
The “All or Nothing” Syndrome
What is it? The all or nothing syndrome is driven by the desire to please all parties, make completely correct decisions and achieve all goals. This syndrome drives people to operate in extremes, and can be particularly harmful in leaders working to enact DEI efforts. They are either in every meeting, making every decision and wordsmithing every email, effectively disempowering the functional DEI leader. Or, they are immobilized by fear of failure or not having the right answer. One effect of this fear of failure is the “‘No’ by another name, i.e. “Let’s circle back on this,” “Let’s think on that.”
How might we address it? First, it’s important to reframe our mindsets to recognize DEI as an integral, integrated business unit. Like any other business unit, such as finance or IT, DEI teams should have dedicated staff, budget, goals, technical language, key performance indicators, and desired outcomes. The diversity leader should be empowered to make decisions based on their expertise, and have enough resources to execute their strategy. If goals are not met or challenges are encountered, just like any other business unit, there should be a process to assess what went well, determine what did not, realign and set new goals. Once we approach DEI through this lens, we begin to see that perfection does not exist, and mistakes are simply opportunities to learn and improve.
The “Woke” Complex
What is it? Those with a woke complex are folks who utilize “gotcha” moments, shame and embarrassment as tools for change. While this might appear to be effective in the moment, shame and embarrassment dissipate over time. Further, they fracture relationships and typically will limit future engagement in diversity work.
How might we address it? Recognize that learning is the most effective tool for change. While learning takes time and repetition, it ensures long-term mindset shift and behavior change. This process can promote learning in critical moments:
- Seek understanding. If a misrepresentation is made, an incorrect fact is stated, you (or a colleague) are the victim of a microagression, etc. your first step should be to seek understanding. I’m sure we’ve all heard the age old diversity refrain, “intent versus impact.” To be clear, someone’s intent never excuses any harm that may be experienced. However, pausing to confirm understanding is crucial for the learning and understanding of both parties.
- Provide feedback (and a recommendation). Once intent has been clarified, it’s important to provide feedback. Explaining why what was said is harmful and the impact it had on yourself, the team, and/or the organization helps contextualize the need for behavior change. Most importantly, you should provide a recommendation on what better looks like to support positive future behaviors.
- Follow-Up. Typically, with conversations like these, when feedback is given, the interaction ends there. It is crucial to follow-up on the feedback and recommendation provided. If you see positive behavior change, it is important to affirm this progress and its positive impact. This supports the colleague and allows them to pass along learning and feedback to others in the future.
The “Bottom Liner”
What is it? The bottom liner is someone who focuses on process and outcomes at the expense of people and relationships. This mindset may be difficult to recognize because outcomes are of course important to measure business success.
Here are a few ways to recognize the bottom liner:
- When a cultural challenge arises, a bottom liner will display defensiveness and ask, “What data supports this assumption?”
- When discussing inequitable outcomes for a particular population, the bottom liner will focus on aggregate outcomes as proof of team/organizational success.
- At the first sign of urgency, the bottom liner will jump quickly to decision-making and delegating.
How might we address it? There are simple ways to move across the spectrum toward valuing people and relationships over process and outcomes.
- When a cultural challenge arises, begin with, “Tell me more.” Prioritizing the impact on the employee and their experience is crucial. A key mindset shift here is recognizing that qualitative data is data and is valid.
- When this disparity in outcome is surfaced, ask, “How is this population adversely affected?” and “What resources might we need to correct this disparity?” Always disaggregate data for race, gender, sexual orientation, and their intersections to determine what groups are negatively affected.
- When a project becomes urgent on the team or within the organization, bring critical stakeholders to the table to discuss next steps. Urgent projects require quick adjustments of workloads and timelines. By doing so as a team, you are able to move forward more efficiently with a common understanding of the plan. Ensuring transparency in this way is critical to building trust and equity on a team.
Creating inclusive, diverse cultures that center equity, integrate diversity as a business imperative and reward learning and growth, is guaranteed to drive positive cultures and high performance. These mindsets might be present in individuals, teams and organizations, and working to name and address them is a powerful way to take your commitment to DEI to the next level.