“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget  what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou


There is a deeply human element to our work. Without people, there  would be no need for organisations. Embedding inclusion, diversity  and equity into teams will increase the personal and relational  dimension of business. It will also bring with it all the complexity of  our humanity. A wide variety of perspectives, biases and priorities,  along with debate, disagreement and potentially dissent. Building  organisational strength and resilience to manage the increased  emotional and psychological range is essential. Although this is not  an easy task, there are many techniques and tools that can be learnt  and harnessed for long-term diversity success. At a time when the  boundaries between work and home have been completely removed  by a global pandemic, the benefits of an inclusive culture and an  environment that welcomes diversity have the potential to bear  even more fruit. Ultimately, paying attention to the emotional and  personal aspects of work is going to lead to greater professional  fulfilment for everyone.

Expect Innovation

Innovation is one of the many positive results of increasing diversity.  Several research studies have shown the innovation benefits of  diverse teams. Business professors Cristian Deszö of the University  of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University studied the effect of gender diversity on the top firms in Standard & Poor’s  Composite 1500 list, a group designed to reflect the overall US equity  market. They measured the firms’ ‘innovation intensity' through the  ratio of research and development expenses to assets. They found  that companies which prioritized innovation saw greater financial  gains when women were part of the top leadership ranks. A similar  case study has been shared by Wanda Hope, the Chief Diversity  Officer at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), who has described the innovation  that has come out of their multi-cultural and multi-faith teams. For  example, Listerine, a J&J product, typically contains alcohol like  most mouthwash products. In predominately Muslim cultures, this  creates significant issues. A forward-thinking and diverse team  out of Malaysia decided to create one that was green tea based and  alcohol-free. When it was launched, it increased the market share of  Listerine by seven percent. It is a tangible example of diverse teams  innovating with new perspectives and market leading products.

Deal with Difficulties

It is important to acknowledge that diversity in the workplace can  create friction. It forces people to work harder, challenges their  assumptions and makes them less sure of themselves. Research from  the software group Cloverpop found that when decisions are made  by homogeneous groups and executed by diverse teams friction  increases by 15 percent.97 Sadly, this is the case at many organisations,  where there is a ‘pyramid’ structure with less diversity at the senior  levels and more at the junior. However, there is a simple way to solve  this problem, make the pyramid a cylinder by changing who is part of  the decision-making process. The same research showed that when  diverse teams were part of both the deciding and the doing, they  delivered results 60 percent above the average.

Increasing diversity in decision-making meetings and committees  is a quick-win solution to increasing representation and innovation.  In 2006, Stanford researcher Katherine Phillips and Margaret Neale  of the University of Illinois examined the impact of racial diversity  on small decision-making groups in an experiment where sharing  information was a requirement for success.98 The groups with racial  diversity significantly outperformed the groups with no racial  diversity. Being with similar people leads us to think we all hold  the same information and share the same perspective. This is  what stopped the all-white groups from effectively processing the  information and hindered their creativity and innovation.

The important point to remember is that when we hear dissent from  someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than  when it comes from someone who looks like us. However, it is not  always an easy social process and requires effective communication  and emotional intelligence to navigate well. At the same time,  this hard work of dealing with people who are different to us and  having interactions that are a little less comfortable can become the  irritant that creates the pearl. It can be what sparks that amazing  new idea or corrects a mistaken assumption. But it is not always the  case that people leave discussions in diverse groups saying it felt  great. Allowing space for the additional discussions and reflection  is extremely important if you want to see the benefits of diversity.  Although the process may take a little longer, it is much more likely  to be higher quality than the groupthink process.

Inclusive Meetings

Meetings are a unique insight into the culture of any organisation.  MIT Sloan Management research suggests that meetings have  increased in length and frequency, to the point where executives  spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from  less than ten hours in the 1960s.99 Tony Prophet, the chief equality  officer at Salesforce, thinks meetings offer a prime opportunity for  change. Meetings are filled with ‘thousands of moments’ that reflect  the culture of an organization and the culture of more or less inclusion.  Tony likes to ask people to think about the last meeting they were  in. He asks us to reflect on some key questions.

 - Who spoke?

- Who took the majority of the airtime?

- Who was checking their messages when a certain person was  talking and started paying attention when someone else was  talking?

- Who threw an idea at the table that wasn’t received as a great  idea and ten minutes later, who else put the same idea on the  table and all of a sudden, it’s an incredible idea?

- Who interrupted?

- Who was interrupted?

- Who did you not hear from?

- Who got invited to the meeting?

- Who didn’t get invited?

In other words, we need to pay attention to how inclusive our  meetings are and make changes where we see an opportunity for  greater inclusion. Small and subtle shifts in how meetings are run  can make an outsized difference to company culture.

Clarify Communication

Daily communication between colleagues is another area where  inclusion can shine or be diminished. Social psychologist Justin  Kruger and behavioural scientist Nick Epley have shown how most  people overestimate the accuracy of their communication. In 2005,  they ran a study where they had participants read a series of  statements and they were told to communicate with a range of  emotions, including: sarcasm; seriousness; anger; or sadness.100  They did this either by email, as a voice recording, or face-to-face.  They were asked how accurate they thought other people would be  in decoding the tone of their statements. Overall, the communicators  thought that other people would be pretty accurate in decoding their  messages. The researchers showed these statements to other people  and asked them to actually label the tone of the communication.

As you can see from the chart below, people overestimated their  accuracy on every dimension. The worst discrepancy, however, was  with email. Email carries no non-verbal information, tone of voice or  other para-linguistic cues. But when people are writing their emails,  they ‘hear’ them in the correct tone. You may not even know there  is miscommunication. When it comes to important messages you  draft, never simply read it to yourself in your head. Ask another  person to read it out loud to you. Think about how it sounds and ask  them what they think you mean. Remember to consider the emotional  tone of your emails as much as the intellectual content.


“Allow the space for individuals to develop their inner lives, in the  midst of busy and at times, stressful outer lives.”