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Going Beyond Buzzwords to Enhance Diversity and Inclusion at Work

By The Regis Company - March 25, 2021

A recent study by innovation guru Josh Bersin found that “inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.”

It’s an impressive figure, but easier said than done. Diversity and inclusion are noble goals, but notoriously difficult to define and operationalize. It wasn’t until the 1980’s when Corporate America introduced diversity training; and only after the socio-political upheaval of 2020 have organizations begun hiring Chief Diversity Officers en masse to handle their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

While bringing on a CDO is a great step toward cultural change within a company, diversity and inclusion cannot be realized without the participation of leaders at every level. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, leader education is the instrumental first step in creating diverse and inclusive work environments.

How is leadership development part of the solution?

Leadership development programs often help employees take on a new role or master a technical skill set. Why shouldn’t it also speak to the human side of leadership to instill behaviors that reflect empathy, open communication, and respect?

We have found that one of the best ways to cultivate self-awareness, diverse thinking, and inclusiveness is to approach leadership development with one simple principle: Teach leaders how to think, not what to think.

When leaders are taught what to think, they become proficient in process and rote application of skills, but still suffer from limited thinking due to habitual thought patterns and biases. In contrast, when leaders learn how to think, they first examine how they view the world and work to lift the veil of bias and myopic thinking. This new way of relating to the self and others encourages flexible, inclusive, and strategic thinking. Curriculum that delivers how, not what, is the only way to drive real behavioral change because it examines and evolves the thoughts, habits, patterns, and biases and underlie behavior at work.

Let’s look at the difference in outcome between what and how to think.

Starting Belief: I won’t go near that part of town

Someone who has learned what to think may have been told, “Don’t go to that part of town. It isn’t safe for you.” This deprives this person of understanding how to assess what is a safe or unsafe area. It may also bias this person against those who come from that part of town.

On the other hand, when the same person learns how to think, new possibilities arise. First, this person will begin to question: “Why do I believe I cannot visit this part of town?” He or she might discover that, “My uncle once told me it isn’t safe because he had a bad experience there nearly 20 years ago. I’ve always heard I should not go there. But my friend loves the dog park in that neighborhood, and I just read an article praising a food truck in the area.” Once this person understands the origin of the belief, he or she can be open to new input and experiences that will shape a new and more informed belief:

Ending Belief: There are many locations in that part of town I’m excited to explore.

When applied to problem-solving and decision-making in the workplace, how to think leadership development models lay the groundwork for a company culture committed to diversity and inclusion.

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