Diversity is a social and natural imperative for any organization. It is the law of nature. Any entity that does not reflect the diversity of the ecosystem it exists within will become replaced by another that better matches the diversity of the larger system. It is through embracing diversity that microcosms embrace the intelligence of its environment and evolve in intelligence, maturity and consciousness.
Whether it is government, a business, a social organization or a community, this alignment between the heterogeneity of the entity and its environment’s will reflect in positive ways; greater compassion, higher profitability, greater social cohesion and more sociability, depending on the reason for existence of the entity.
Inversely, when there is a disconnect between the heterogeneity of the entity and its environment, it will lead to the decay of the entity in due time. It is just a question of when.
These days there is quite some anger around the income and wealth inequality experienced in the United States. The battle between the mainstream 99% and the other 1% who seem to have undue political and economic control over society seems to have boiled over and reached a breaking point. When a certain society does not reflect the natural equity of all beings, it is doomed to perish.
* * *
TWO ISSUES THAT GET IN THE WAY OF DIVERSITY
Due to various reasons, today at the decision-making and policy-making levels there is a high awareness towards the need for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I notice diversity has found a place in the Business Balance Scorecards of many organizations. Leaders have handed down diversity goals, targets and quotas, and they’ve established Equal Opportunity commissions.
Yet, they have very slow progress to show for results. Why is that? What is the bottleneck in the pervasive adoption of diversity in workplaces?
IT IS MINDSET.
Within organizations across the globe, we have identified two mindset-related issues blocking greater adoption of diversity.
One is that many middle managers – including line managers and recruitment heads – just follow a script when it comes to following the diversity mandate. They are doing what they are being told. The middle managers are handed down quotas and they deliver on them. They are being told to recruit equal number of women, so they go out and recruit equal number of women. And when the targets are met, they congratulate each other.
But they are not seeing any business benefits. All the promise that diversity leads to creativity and business building is not visible. As an example, when women come into the workforce, the whole culture of homogeneity and conformism sucks them in and squeezes out all the diversity in their thinking.
“You lose yourself in that [strong existing culture]. That is how I felt,” a very accomplished individual who worked for one of the globally renowned FMCG companies – and since left – told me. “When XYZ hired me, they hired a very diverse person, thinking wise. I always felt that I was very different than the people around me. But I was being trained to conform. And for a number of years I thought that’s what I got to do. And it got so painful and so difficult that I couldn’t survive in that environment, you know.
So, they lost a diverse person basically because of the culture. Even though they did a good job at recruiting a diverse person.”
* * *
The second mindset-related issue blocking greater adoption of diversity is when the mindset of those meant to administer the diversity agenda, viz. line managers and recruitment heads, is set on HOMOGENEITY. When this happens, none of the goals, targets, quotas or commissions can persist for long. When homogeneity is the mindset, recruitment managers only pay lip service to diversity. Their instinct would be to preserve what is familiar to them. Their actions would unconsciously protect their ideologies and belief systems. As a result, they might pretend not to find diverse candidates who match the job profile.
In Decision Theory, mindset is defined as a set of assumptions, methods, or notations held by one or more people or groups of people that is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviours, choices or tools.
When it comes to their diversity ambitions, organizational leaders from politics and business experience numerous bottlenecks at the organizational mindset level. Shifting mindset is not an easy thing. Mindset is often conditioned during childhood, and those beliefs stay with us in adult life and express in our personal and professional realms. Someone who has grown up believing that different classes of peoples belong to separate settings, or that a woman’s place is at home, will incline towards homogeneity in the workplace. Mindset is what leads people to extremism, rigidity of beliefs, attachment to ideology, dogmas, etc. Such is the power of conditioning.
Such mindset creates big bottlenecks to policy-makers and decision-makers who are sincerely intent upon nurturing heterogeneous organizations. Many leaders I speak to acknowledge that they are aware of this problem. And they are keen to master how to shift individual and organizational mindset. Here is where we can learn from the religious leaders of the past.
Religious leaders knew all about shifting mindset for centuries. They learned from the sages and the masters, and for good or for bad, they used their knowledge effectively. All religious practices and symbology originated out of this ancient understanding of how to convert mindset and keep its following.
In the next section we will look at the four levers that has been used for centuries to shift mindset and how that can be applied to creating diverse organizations on this planet.
* * *
THE FOUR LEVERS FOR SHIFTING MINDSET
However deeply ingrained a person’s mindset is, there are ways to transform it. We just need to find the right levers to pull in order to change an individual’s or organization’s mindset. Four such levers are discussed below.
The first and foremost lever to shift individual or organizational mindset is VOCABULARY. If we want a new reality, we must speak a new vocabulary. For example, if there is only talk of war, war is what we will end up with. That is how we operate in consciousness. What we keep repeating to ourselves gradually becomes our reality. Alter your vocabulary and – in due time – the reality will change.
We saw this with the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King lead the movement from the front by introducing a new vocabulary. He called on his fellowmen to resist from annihilating the enemy through hatred, rather converting them through love. He constantly spoke of forbearance and reconciliation instead of retribution.
Dr. King’s vocabulary suggested a post-revolution reality where the blacks and whites co-existed as friendly neighbours. As a result of such an approach the Civil Rights Movement did not degenerate into civil war. Instead it opened up the possibility in the US mind towards a reconciled world. It changed a segregated mindset to a unified one.
Even as we write this piece, the US presidential primaries are ongoing these days. One of the candidates, Bernie Sanders, stands out from the pack for his use of vocabulary to create shift in the US. By using simple and clear language, he speaks to the highest aspirations of a disillusioned generation of youngsters. He consistently repeats his vocabulary…..over and over and over again.
“Enough is enough,” he keeps repeating. And now Americans realize that voting for Sanders means putting a stop to the old ways.
He effectively uses his vocabulary to move what Americans know at the subconscious level to the conscious. By being so intentional in his vocabulary, Sanders is signing off on a new culture.
The second lever for shifting mindset is rituals. Rituals are perhaps the most effective lever to transform an individual’s or organization’s mindset. They rewire your brain and impact the way you think, speak and do things.
I found this definition of rituals on the net; Rituals are a series of actions or type of behaviour regularly and invariably followed by someone.
The All India Radio employees in Pune, India, do a ritual every morning. They start their day listening to a positive news item. Every morning all employees gather together and one positive news item is shared in the office. It is not just read out, they revel in it for a few minutes, they applaud the heroes in the story, they adopt the standards seen in the story, they embrace the moral, etc. Then they start their days work.
When rituals are adopted while holding the right intention in your thoughts, it will swiftly transform your mind and body. The secret is to conceive the right ritual that holds the appropriate intention behind it. How quickly a ritual transforms your mindset depends on how intensely you hold the intention in your awareness and how frequently you engage in the ritual. Whether at an individual level or organizational level, you can achieve transformation in a matter of days with the right rituals. Such is the power of rituals.
One of the organizations that I’ve helped have supported all cross-functional teams to create a set of ‘operating standards’ that each team member would repeat at the beginning of each meeting. This has drastically improved the listening, collaboration, humour, lack of judgment, gratitude, etc. in the team work. Some teams have since testified that their rituals have lifted their morale and team spirit.
So go ahead and conceive your own daily rituals. You could take several deep breaths before a meeting. Or you could say a prayer, or sing or chant, or you could make a practice of celebrating outstanding group efforts, or an informal early morning meeting over coffee to support each other or seek to be in service. You could end of day with an informal roundtable or a ‘learning session’. Imagine.
The third lever for shifting mindset is ceremonies.
One of my dear friends, a Maori elder from New Zealand, once told me that they do a simple but powerful ceremony every time any woman in their village is going through a difficult time in her life. They do not engage in all kinds of intellectual examinations…no psychoanalysis, no problem-solving. The whole village would gather and perform the Haka, a traditional Maori warrior dance, for her! It gives her a sense of identity in the village and she feels cared for. It gives her the strength to continue facing her adversities. More importantly, the ceremony raises her to a new, deeper level of awareness where she can access new answers for herself.
We have heard the famous quote from Albert Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Ceremonies have the power of raising us to different levels of awareness where we start to see solutions to problems that eluded us previously.
Most corporations do annual functions for one thing or the other; to felicitate customers or suppliers, to enhance creativity and innovation, to celebrate its diversity, to reinforce the vision of its founders, to bring renewed focus on cost or quality, etc. Such functions are valuable in shifting collective mindset … if the purpose of the ceremony is crisp and designed around a single issue.
Participants in a ceremony should not be engaged solely at the mental level. They should engage in the ceremony with their whole body with no inhibitions holding them back.
Ceremonies have the power to develop greater meaning and deeper relationships, whether they be personal, organizational or community ceremonies. Ceremonies help focus the collective intentions for yourself and your organization. Ceremonies acknowledge that life as it has been is changing, and it is important to process the change collectively. Going through any type of ceremony reminds us of what has been happening in the past and what we are moving towards.
Ceremonies offer us a broad picture of the future and instills in us a common sense of purpose. For example, when Pope Francis was crowned, we learned about his new vision and priorities for his institution and followers.
The fourth lever for shifting mindset is symbols.
A community college in Canada that I have supported in the past discovered that diversity was at the very core of its decades long heritage. Both staff and students of various races have always felt at home in that college. However, for a few decades it had lost touch with its rainbow nature. Hence in an attempt to fully reclaim its diversity and display it to the world, the management of the college decided to create a new logo that reflected its diversity. It adopted a multi-coloured logo that was instantly recognizable as inclusive. Today I witness a real sense of ownership from the faculty and students towards the logo.
Symbols resonate with you on a deep level. They are reminders of what you stand for. They stimulate your thoughts and ideas, and awakens your deeper mind. They have the power to penetrate you and code its message deep within your subconscious.
The meaning that you assign to the symbol is what it will stand for. So continue to enforce its meaning, and slowly others will also associate the symbol with its meaning. The more a symbol is used to convey a particular message, the more timeless the message becomes in your mindset.
Your life is shaped by the many symbols that have passed through your life, inherited from your culture, your family, your mythology or your society. Newspapers, internet, TV, and movies have a similar impact. These symbols are the models that you pattern your life after.
Symbols becomes potent when they are distinct and represent one clear message. Symbols should be placed everywhere where you – and others – can encounter them.
* * *
Diversity is an individual, organizational, social, national and global priority today. All across the globe, the landscape is turning into pockets of polarized groups that is unrepresentative of the blend of nature. Such a landscape is unsustainable, whether it be a home, an organization or a nation. That calls for an urgent shift in our individual and collective mindsets.
The deeper part of our individual and collective self needs vocabulary, symbols, rituals and ceremonies to shift its consciousness and move towards true diversity. That is the essence of this article.