SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference: How Diverse Is Your Network?

OK, I bet you’ve never really stopped and pondered the diversity of your network. In fact, you’re probably even wondering what it means. I hadn’t thought along those lines either, until I attended a workshop being hosted by speaker and consultant Joe Gerstandt at the SHRM Diversity & Inclusion conference in Chicago earlier this week.

Play along for a minute. Ask yourself a couple of questions — ones that Gerstandt posed at the conference — such as:

• Who have I socialized with in the last six months?

• Who would I go to for a project?

• Who do I discuss new ideas with?

• Who do I turn to for help?

Now, take the list of names you’ve jotted down and break them up demographically. Do you see people of different ages, ethnicities, religions, genders, etc., reflected? The answer in many, if not most, cases will be no.

Citing a white paper, Gerstandt explained how, following high female turnover at a university, both male and female faculty were surveyed on how they go about getting work done. As it turned out, relationships and networking — even just informal ones like running into each other in the men’s room — played a key role in helping the men either solve problems, answer questions, come up with new ideas and doing what they needed to do to advance. This was, of course, not true for their female counterparts. The findings revealed that even the least connected man was more connected than the most connected woman.

That’s often the case not because of intentional discrimination or bias, but because of something called “homophily,” Gerstandt said, which is a tendency to surround ourselves with people who are like us. It’s comfortable. We feel like we belong.

Gerstandt was clear to point out though: “If you don’t intentionally include, you’re unintentionally excluding.”

Whereas the first step is awareness — knowing your network isn’t as diverse as it probably should be — the next proactive step you can take is to intentionally move outside your comfort zone by going to places and doing things that will make you feel uncomfortable simply because they’re unfamiliar. But that’s OK. That’s how you’ll learn.

Just think about it. Does innovation typically occur when people are around those exactly like themselves or when they’re surrounded by disparate thoughts, opinions and perspectives? Look at the teams in your organization — do they look diverse/inclusive or siloed/segregated? That will tell you a lot about your organizational culture and whether/how it needs to change.