The paradox of DEI initiatives and time management

During the Christmas holidays I read wonderful articles on the ability to think in paradoxes and the concrete risk of implementing diversity initiatives (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) which are more punitive in tone (no more middle-aged white men) than constructive in tone.

The full articles can be found here: https://heterodoxacademy.org/blog/diversity-training-doesnt-work-this-might/ and here: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201109-why-the-paradox-mindset-is-the-key-to-success

What both articles have in common is the focus on the competency of thinking in paradoxes. The competency to think in paradoxes requires time, as it takes much more time to reflect on two angles compared to one angle.

The key recipe to successful diversity management is teach people to work together, irrespective of their background. This requires time. Time to explore what works, what doesn´t. Time to explore why people think the way they do, and perhaps even time to think about what they think…

Basically, the reflective question you want to ask yourself – “are our diversity and inclusion programs really helping all our employees to actively consider the other person, AND is our organisational culture such that we provide people with the enough time to take this time to reflect, explore, adapt?

People´s biases do not predict their behaviour . What makes their biases come alive is the organisational practices which steer our behaviour (e.g. meet the numbers, ensure productivity). This reinforces our consulting approach, which is that to build an inclusive culture, having inclusive value statements is good, but useless if not followed up with consistent practices such as reward systems, example figures, leadership evaluation criteria and symbols.

Diversity training undermines support for diversity

The paradox with most diversity training initiatives, as quoted in the Heterodox academy article lies in the counterintuitive effect that, as quoted: “The training also leads many to believe that they have to ‘walk on eggshells’ when engaging with members of minority populations. By calling attention, not just too clear examples of harm and prejudice, but just as much (or more) to things like implicit attitudes and microaggressions, participants come to view colleagues from historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups as fragile and easily offended. As a result, members of the dominant group become less likely to try to build relationships or collaborate with people from minority populations.”

And this is the problem, as in order to combat biases and build a common organisational identity, people need to work together with those who think differently.

Think like Einstein

As quoted in the BBC article: “Over a series of studies, psychologists and organisational scientists have found that people who learn to embrace, rather than reject, opposing demands show greater creativity, flexibility and productivity. The dual constraints actually enhance their performance.”

As with all good things, building this embracement skills/attitude requires time. Time is an organisational resource which is scarce, and the paradox is that to create time, you require time.

It´s like the old saying “Two steps forward, one step back”. HR has the ability to create an organisational culture where time can be created and that starts with HR itself making time for itself.

• Start with one hour a week of empty time in your calendar. And if you are brave, reserve half a day a week. To do basically nothing, except for think proactively, instead of reactively. Think about “why” you want to implement specific HR initiatives – based on which data do you want to implement them, and in which part of the organisation. Think about which events (e.g. HENRY events) will help you to collect new perspectives.

• As a next step, change the managerial evaluation criteria – start asking questions about whether or not managers tolerate paradoxes, actively look for alternative ways, encourage “challenger” behaviour – meaning people who actively question “why” things are done the ways things have always been done. People who question “what is the purpose of this diversity training, what are the metrics it is based on, which KPI's do we need to start changing”, etc.

Wishing you a reflective 2021.

Egbert Schram

Egbert Schram is a Dutchman, residing in Finland. He acts as the Group CEO of Hofstede Insights, a global cultural advisory, advising individuals, organisations and governments on the impact of culture on work life. Currently having operations in 60+ countries, and a global practice of about 150 people (of which 93% outside of Finland).