What Diversity Management can learn from neuroscientific findings

Neuroscientists have been trying to reveal the functioning of our brain for several decades. The brains’ neuroplasticity, i.e. the ability of the brain to form new connections between neurons, can now be used as an element of diversity management. Because the brain has this ability to change over our lifespan, it is indeed a possible source of rethinking and reviewing our attitude towards diversity. Implementation of neuroscientific findings into diversity management can provide a change in diversity practices.

According to Dr. Jackie Jeffrey from Middlesex University Business School there are four neuroscientific facts that can support our appreciation of human diversity: First, every human brain is uniquely organized as we all have different personal experiences. This leads to some kind of ‘natural’ diversity of mankind.

Second, the development of habits that interfere with recognition of diversity can be explained by the fact that repeated experiences strengthen already existing paths of our brain. But this insight not only explains “how we develop habits and preferences that prevent us from recognizing our own diversity“ (Jeffrey 2015), but also opens up opportunities for diversity training, change and Diversity Management in general: Neuronal connections can – at least to some degree – reconnect in a new and different way. When people are “practice” D&I attitudes e.g. in the course of long-term diversity training, they can build some kind of “neuronal D&I networks” that will change peoples attitudes with regard to Diversity and Inclusion without always having to really “think” about it on a conscious level.

Third, the importance of feelings helps to explain why humans try to minimize danger and therefore avoid changing habits. Hence, a well-constructed D&I program should not only think about rational aspects such as the Business Case, but should take into account the feelings and emotions of all individuals affected, too. It will not be sufficient to explain to employees or managers that Diversity is good for business when they feel uncomfortable on a deeper level, which may cause opposition to a change process such as the implementation of D&I. The holistic approach to the implementation of D&I, which is described in Diversity expert Michael Stuber’s reference book “Diversity and Inclusion”, is one example for an approach that pays attention to this neuroscientificly based finding. For the underlying Propelling Potential Principle is based on the cognitive process.

Fourth, only humans are capable of changing the environment that is instrumental in shaping their brains and hence “everything we have come to know and believe is open to question and challenge“ (Jeffrey 2015). This finding is a good sign for Diversity Management as it underlines the fact that change is possible.

When we try to implement all these findings into or diversity practices, we will come to a point where we have to acknowledge a “multiple dimensionality”. Diversity is not only about homogenous group differences, but about very individual differences. Only if we include these individual differences, generating a proper collective intelligence that is strongly needed in organisations for leveraging potential can be generated. With the help of new technology such as the internet, organisations can connect people from all over the world. This opportunity has to be used in order to reach a deeper appreciation of diversity itself.