How D&I leaders should be D&I role models and work more with the mainstream majority

For twenty years, D&I was demanding inclusive behaviour and high ethical standards from dominant groups while running programmes for women and minorities. The analysis shows that this has be reversed: D&I leaders should role model their ideals and work a lot more with the mainstream majority.

Who are We? Part 3: D&I Leaders and Influencers

Reflecting our roles as leaders in D&I can easily be started from the question: What is it that we ask from business leaders? We keep on asking them to role model Diversity & Inclusion. To walk the talk. To walk the walk. To be authentic, credible and consistent. So how about ourselves? Where and when do we role model D&I? Let’s take two simple examples:

  • How do we carry out our research? How do we look for a broad base of information and tap into a variety of sources or do we rely on colleagues we know and trust and ask them to confirm what we think?
  • How do we lead discussions? Do we deliberately invite different people with different perspectives to eventually challenge our ideas or do we focus on our established network to get support for our plans?

An illustration of the current state can be found at D&I conferences which can be regarded as a reflection of the professional landscape. How many challenging speakers do we generally see? How much critical discourse is typically going on? How much variety of perspectives and opinions do we usually find?

The D&I network bubble

My personal impression of the development over twenty years is that most recently, social networks and the related filter bubble as well as quite some favourism has led to a dynamic that can best be described as a network bubble. By definition, bubbles lack openness, interfaces and constructive dialogue that I used to be a key characteristic of the D&I arena. And a key asset as well.

The standards of D&I

A similar yet slightly different aspect can be found in discussing the standards that D&I sets for an organisation – and if we follow those standards in our own work. Two more examples illustrate this:

  • Observing ethical values is often considered a foundation for D&I. I therefor think it is fair to ask if some of the behaviours that exist among D&I leaders actually live up to this aspiration? Are we always transparent or do we sometimes have a hidden agenda? Do we always provide solid feedback when we ask for an input or a proposal? Do we check facts before we pass on something we heard?
  • Over the years, we repeatedly had to explain how D&I can strengthen meritocracy. However, to what extend do we apply this principle in our own work? Do we define requirements and criteria before we search for the best partners or do we sometimes simply approach a friend or the usual suspects? Do we consider the competences and qualifications or do we sometimes decide ‘who fits best’?

Professionalism in D&I

When I get to discuss such aspects, I often hear that we are all only humans. And while this should never be forgotten, we have to ask ourselves how effective and credible we can be in our D&I work if we excuse ourselves in that way. Of course, we are all influenced by the context we work in – for examples famous, successful corporations with great reputation – and we are often under pressure – from our stakeholders or peers. And some are simply a bit insecure in a D&I job, for which they might not have been trained. However, all of this should only tell us to (re)focus on professionalism in D&I, and certainly never compromise on any aspect that we demand from others. As a starting point for a renewed focus on professionalism, I suggest a critical assessment of traditional paradigms and a consideration of alternatives.

Emotional identification and personal benefits for everyone?

One learning that we can take from the recent success of anti-diversity campaigns is: D&I did not provide enough emotional substance for identification and did not show enough benefits for people. Already early on in the development of D&I, we were talking often and a lot about similarities being as important in Diversity as differences. Also, we stressed the contribution of dominant, mainstream or majority groups and said that they are certainly included in D&I. Nevertheless, the reality of most D&I programmes focused on differences, underrepresented or disadvantaged groups (for many important reasons – no doubt). In doing so, we may have contributed to some of the divides that we see today.

Work with, for and on the mainstream majority

Many D&I practitioners may feel uncomfortable with the idea, but there are increasing signs that we should reduce the work that is focused on women, LGBT, ethnic groups etc. significantly. It will also not be enough to say how much we want to include men, straight allies and other dominant groups. Instead, we should see them as one of our main audiences from this point onwards.

Different audiences, all paradigms, new formats for D&I

This will imply a reassessment of our target groups and we will have to accept that we have many different audiences at any point in time. Therefore, we need to apply the various paradigms that we have developed over decades, and not consider the earlier ones outdated. Consequently, we will need to develop a number of new formats to reach out to and include the different target groups that we see.

I suppose that this quite fundamental change might take as long as it took us (in Europe) to get the special interest NGOs on board the D&I agenda – which was my first ten years!

Considering the many aspects covered by the three perspectives of the Who-are-We series, it is safe to say that we are at the start of a new era for D&I. In order to drive the future change, I adapted a quote from the probably most famous Indian citizen:

We must be the D&I we want to see in others.

The ideas of the three parted analysis “Who are We?” were first presented to the public in a keynot address by Michael Stuber at the World D&I Congress, Mumbai, 17 Feb 2017.