Diversity is the End, Not the Means

The Oscars attempt at dealing with diversity, or rather the lack of racial diversity, is an effort that most organizations make. It's the structural approach - the policy approach - the numbers approach. It's unfortunate because it's not a competent approach. It's a symptom of an inability to see diversity with more complexity and sophistication.

We work with many organizations who have followed this structural numbers approach: "Let's increase diversity!" "We need more people of color!" The thinking here is that if they accomplish the numbers diversity, the organizations will be great and therefore, "inclusive". The problem here is that they are conflating the word "inclusion" with "diversity" and, in other words, mixing up the ends with the means.

Some are successful at acquiring diversity of skin color, some are not, but in either case, they quickly realize they cannot retain the diversity and let alone make it a strength.

They then decide that "diversity is dysfunctional". But we can tell you that diversity is not dysfunctional, it's the approach that's dysfunctional. Don't seek the ends before taking on the means.

Making diversity work as a strength requires addressing it from a completely different approach. Again, diversity is the end. The means is to first understand the organization's values - not the stated ones - but the hidden ones that behavior follows.

Diversity thrives only in an organization where positive affirming invisible values match up with the stated, explicit values. How do you make sure that negative hidden values are constructively addressed and transformed into positive affirming invisible ones? Our response: develop individuals', particularly leadership's, intercultural competence. This development-based approach is the effort that will result in the necessary structural change for increased diversity.

In the end, an organization's inability to create high-performing diversity comes from the lack of individuals' limited intercultural competence, particularly among leadership. Diversity has to happen as the fruit of highly developed intercultural capacity of people and the organization.