Get rid of your Diversity credo, start practising inclusion!

by Didier Marlier on Wednesday March 9th, 2016

For years, I have looked down at the notion of “Inclusion”. I rejected it, considering it was:

  • A wrong priority: Business is about performance, not keeping everybody happy. In any corporate culture, Benevolence/Support are needed and have to be counterbalanced by Exigence/Challenge. I always respected the recruiters of NestlĂ© and McKinsey (when they interviewed me during my MBA) for being clear that their corporate culture wasn’t negotiable and would not please everyone. When they told me what it was, we agreed to stop wasting each other’s time and respectfully parted ways.
  • A license to underperform under a fake claim of accepting other people’s point of view: So many times, have I seen people not addressing underperformance under the fake assumption that what had “accidentally” caused it was just a different way of looking at things, which should be respected and… we would happily and respectfully hit the brick wall the next time again…
  • An encouragement to avoid difficult discussions: It takes courage to hold a difficult conversation, to let someone know that I am disappointed by their level of contribution to the team, by reminding the team that, should we wish to perform, there are certain rules or behaviours to keep or ban.
  • A lowest common denominator: I have seen too often brilliant ideas, daring initiatives or provocative stands being softened by less courageous, less extreme points of view. And this “mediocrity of the average” rarely provided a greater result than the risky initiative.

I always liked to portray myself as “diverse”, through my relationships with very different people, my somewhat unusual life story, my love of foreign cultures, the number of languages I speak, never mind if I am also biased, intolerant, impatient and elitist. Why would I need to be inclusive if I am so beautifully diverse ?

And I was so proud to show how diverse the Enablers Network is: gender? Box ticked! Nationalities? Americans, Belgians, Brazilians, British, Canadians, Chinese, Congolese, Dutch, French, Lebanese etc. Box ticked! Background? Academics, artists, consultants, models, musicians, officers etc. Box ticked! sexual orientation? Yes we have that too: box ticked! Political preferences? Yes box ticked here as well! So we are perfectly diverse but almost crashed some time ago because we had become, and me the first, a pseudo elitist exclusion machine…

I have recently been invited in Miami to provoke the leaders of a large group in integrating Diversity and Inclusion in their leadership practice. The top 120 of the company were together for their yearly convention. And… I learned like rarely before, being challenged in the preparation by Geri and Deborah, respectively the VP in charge of Diversity and the top HR officer.

After a month of preparation they helped me understand that :

  • Organizations should stop wasting money on politically correct “Diversity”. If they are not prepared to create and live a truly inclusive culture, diversity is just a tick the box gimmick.
  • Diversity does not imply Inclusion. But a truly Inclusive culture will have Diversity as a nice by-product.
  • Last week, a landmark research, undertaken and funded by Google (which I intend to soon comment here) found out that Vulnerability and Psychological Safety drove business success. And there is no psychological safety in a team or organization if it does not live a culture of inclusion.

Exclusion is certainly not an option:

  • In 1991, in his famous book “L’Empire et les Nouveaux Barbares”, French “AcadĂ©micien” J.C.Rufin explains how the Romans, at the top of their conquest, built a mental wall between them and those they called Barbarians. They totally lost curiosity and military intelligence on them. Their attitude was, “do not cross the line” and we will leave you in peace. This is what prompted the Fall of the Roman Empire.
  • Groupthink “is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome” following Wikipedia’s definition. Worse, “Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking”. This is exactly what happens when Exclusion becomes part of the culture or norms of an organization.

Google (by coincidence?) came up with this wonderful metaphor and illustration of what Inclusion or Exclusion/Conformity create as a result.

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