Be Easy With the Unfamiliar

Last week I attended the inaugural conference for Prism International and the Association for Diversity Councils and was struck, again, by the level of passion diversity practitioners bring to their work.

The work done on diversity councils is critical to facilitate organizational diversity and inclusion strategy, but these people are still fighting tooth and nail for resources, parity and in many cases to validate their very existence.

It’s honestly a little tough to stomach, that diversity is still so … questioned. Why are we — and that’s an inclusive we sparing no race or gender — still so hung up on diversity as a social justice lever? Why can’t we move past that and focus on the business benefits of inclusion, collaboration, innovation and myriad other benefits that come from effective organizational diversity?

The answer likely lies in the human component of this scenario, and the associated fear of change. If fear is not the exact right word, then we can point to the brain science behind our natural resistance to change. Keynoter Steve Robbins discussed it in detail. Essentially, the brain likes patterns, and long ago these patterns helped to save our lives. But things are different now. We don’t have to immediately recognize that this particular animal likes to eat people, yet we still get stuck into behavioral patterns that exclude new thoughts, new ideas, new people or new anything that is not comfortable and familiar.

For instance, I was sitting at a table filled with white men — yes it was deliberate intelligence gathering, I admit it — and listened to a conversation from a CVS manager who spoke not of racial or gender discord at work but personality clashes and narrow-minded thinking that required him to spend an extraordinary amount of time breaking up nitpicky fights. Time he naturally felt would have been better spent working. He saw diversity as a facilitator, a way to promote productivity and a tool with which to enhance performance and focus attention on what really matters on a job.

That’s the name of the game. If only we could get past the narrow-minded, fearful bits of our intrinsic natures …