Diversity Is About Behavior

I am humbled to be asked to write this column. “Shift” is a fresh look at the current and future state of what we so proudly call the work of diversity and the quest for inclusion. I hope to shift our attention from compliance and tactics to business and organizational impact.

My research and experience as a subject matter expert in the organizational development and diversity disciplines convinced me that at its core, diversity and ultimately inclusion is about how people behave. If we continue to focus heavily on tactics without linking them to how people behave, we won’t be able to make measurable impact in our organizations or in the profession.

Diversity will not have significant and sustained impact on organizational life until we shift our mindsets, actions and behaviors from tactics to business impact to make our profession more effective.

We should use tools similar to those we use in the lines of business, such as human capital analytics, to gauge how we are progressing. Using analytics and other tools as a starting point, we can start to make the shift to business impact. The problem is diversity and inclusion started as a look at minority rights and civil rights and is now struggling to remain relevant. Worse, there are very few diversity-specific tools available to shift the conversation.

Organizational behavior provides a solid framework for people in the organization to understand how people behave using analytical tools and processes. Then, from the organizational behavior field, we must examine how to maintain a high-performing and diverse organization. We also must examine corporate governance and how diversity affects it. Only then can leaders influence and change behaviors.

It is hard to move the profession when so many of us believe that racial equality is the only acceptable outcome for diversity. This belief sets up diversity to fail because the majority of organizations are not in the business of making America equal. As one CDO told me while leaning back in her chair, glasses off, “With all due respect sir, it is your attitude that sets the profession back years.”

She was upset that I was not spending enough time in my research and presentations admitting that race is the core of all things diversity. I did not apologize to her. I do not believe that solving race problems will give organizations the business line impact they are searching for via diversity and inclusion.

It’s tough to make the necessary shift, and the reasons why vary, but insight can be found in the following buckets: The fear of losing race in the conversation; CDOs’ lack of understanding about organizational behavior; activities are highly visible and thus an accomplishment; CEOs and other business leaders need to show their work; and the chase for rankings and lists as evidence of quantitative success. Let’s address the first two:

The fear of losing race in the conversation: Race remains a central issue in diversity, and it should. It should not, however, dominate the conversation. Diversity is inextricably linked to complex enterprise change, and race is inextricably linked to the complexities of social justice wrapped in societal, political change. We have to shift away from expecting diversity and inclusion to solve racially related problems that our broader society has not solved.

The CDO’s lack of understanding about organizational behavior: Some CDOs do not wish to spend time learning a new discipline, and diversity is not a fully developed profession. These days, almost anyone can be a diversity professional if they say they are, but then much of our work is relegated not to impact but to celebration and food: taco Tuesdays, soul food Wednesdays and fried fish Fridays.

But the shift has begun. Join me in our mutual attempt to shift the diversity conversation from the possible to the achievable by having an open mind, challenging behaviors such as limiting diversity to race and even challenging your personal view of diversity when appropriate.

Christopher J. Metzler is senior associate dean at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. He is the author of “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘Post-Racial America.’“ He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.