Diversity of One

As minorities become majorities, organizations must rethink the conventional dimensions of identity and inclusiveness.

Deep in the pristine laboratories of pharma giant Roche in Basel, Switzerland, molecular scientists are experimenting with and achieving breakthroughs on a new understanding of diversity. Not that they would characterize their quest for blockbuster designer drugs in terms of understanding diversity. But their work is now guided by a scientifically evolved understanding that human beings are so genetically diverse that the future of curative and palliative care lies in moving away from the manufacture of mass-application drugs, in favor of drugs that are personalized to each individual patient’s chromosomal profile. In their parlance, this is “precision medicine”—in essence, it is individualized medicine.

What the scientists are witnessing at the genetic level is also taking place in society. Demographic changes have been so massive in the past generation—in nearly every country in the world—that while diversity is more relevant than ever, the way we think about it is obsolete. The stalwart paradigms of group identity based only on race, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability no longer cover the scope of our multidimensional identities. No one is just black. Or Latino. Or female. Or gay. Or blind. We are much more complex than that. We have entered the age of ultradiversity.

This ultradiversity leads to intersected identities such as GayVeteranXer. Or an ElderlyPersonwithaDisability. Or a MillennialIntrovertedFemaleManager. Or a BoomerAfricanAmericanGeneralManagerMalewithAdultKids. Or a LesbianSingleMother.

Or …

In this era, we need to invent “precision talent” strategies applying principles analogous to what pharmacologists are doing with drugs. We must be ready to address the “Diversity of One.”

But there is a counterforce that seeks to minimize differences. The intentions may be benevolent or sinister, but either way they have a damaging effect on societal wellness as well as talent strategies. If we ignore the reality that these differences exist and are only getting more complex, and that they must therefore be addressed, we will contribute to mounting social and work force pressures. Think #Ferguson. #BlackLivesMatter. #ArabSpring. #GlassCeiling. #HigherTurnover.

As we grapple with Diversity of One, we must rethink basic assumptions about diversity. What does “minority” mean when “minorities” are majorities? What does it mean that those who are young have more experience with the supernova-hot trends of digitization, social media and globalization than 25-year careerists do? What does it mean that it’s still a “man’s world” when two-thirds of undergraduates in the U.S. are women and by 2025 in the U.K., for example, women are expected to possess 60 percent of all personal wealth? What does “disability” mean when there are plentiful examples of people with disabilities outperforming those who are supposedly able-bodied? What does it mean to be “closeted” in sexual orientation when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the biggest, most valuable and arguably most influential company in our daily lives, comes out as a gay man? Or that the president of the United States is biracial?

The answers to these questions also challenge many current talent strategies that are failing to address the implications of ultradiversity. Let’s look at some of these new aspects of diversity within three well-established dimensions (race/ethnicity, gender and disability) and what new and innovative human capital strategies are needed to address them. These then can serve as templates for exploring the implications for a much broader set of diversity issues such as globalism, nationality, faith, generational thinking styles and personality, to name just a few.

Minorities Are Majorities

The world is in the midst of a major demographic tsunami. Consider the United States. In 1950, 90 percent of the U.S. was white. By 2040, only half will be white. Already racial and ethnic minorities make up more than 30 percent of the population. Today, “minorities” are majorities in 50 U.S. cities. In 10 U.S. states, whites are a minority group. In California, Latinos are the largest ethnic group of all.

In the U.K., ethnic Britons are expected to be a minority by 2060. In Latin America, the new economic majorities of the emerging middle class are indigenous and darker-skinned. It was so much easier to discriminate against them when they earned $2 a day. Now, with their newly earned financial resources, their children are competing for scarce seats in private schools with those from “old money” families.

So Miami is now the “capital” of Latin America. The United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. São Paulo, Brazil, has the second-largest Japanese population after Tokyo. Chicago has the second-largest Polish population after Warsaw. Toronto has the most foreign-born percentage of any city in the world.

While these demographic shifts are upending politics, economics and workplaces, plunge into the waters of change and note that even these new majorities defy traditional labels and categories. Just ask the “Blaxican” or the “Mexipino.” Or the biracial household names Barack Obama or Soledad O’Brien.

Even when talking about Latinos, which Latino are we talking about? The Spanish dominant? The English dominant? The Spanglish dominant? The one who grew up in the United States or outside of it? The Mexican, the Puerto Rican, the Cuban or the ones from 20-plus other Latin American nationalities?

Diversity of One challenges us to see race and ethnicity as single threads interwoven in the fabric of a person’s identity, recognizing that the cloth contains many other “fibers.”

Talent Strategies

Current diversity strategies are not set up to address this complexity. For example, we have affinity groups structured unidimensionally. There is a Latino group, a black group, an Asian group. But for those individuals who fit all three categories, which group do they “join” to have their needs met?

Multidimensional identities also affect diversity strategies in talent acquisition. Take sourcing and recruiting of Latinos as an example.

A major U.S.-based wealth management and insurance company has set out to attract Latino talent and build up a larger Latino clientele. Korn Ferry is helping this company with learning and strategies that are multifold and are based on a\"\" foundation of building cross-cultural agility. These skills involve teaching members of the majority culture to recognize they have preferred views that affect how they navigate and understand the world. In addition, we must consider the vast diversity that exists under the umbrella terms “Latino” and “Hispanic.” Which Latino talent or consumer is this client is trying to attract? In addition, Latinos within the organization need to become more attuned to their own biographies and to understand the forces that shaped them into the unique Diversity of One Latinos that they are. Their self-awareness, which they can share with their non-Latino counterparts for mutual learning, is just as important.

Women: yes, but which woman?

It is the Decade of the Woman not just because it was declared so by the United Nations, but because women are truly advancing. In most developed countries, women are better educated, participate to a greater extent in the workplace and are more ambitious than any previous female generation. According the research conducted by the Global Summit of Women, there are several countries, including France, Norway and Finland, whose full roster of blue-chip companies have boards that are comprised of at least 30 percent women. And with 22 countries now having established quotas for women on boards, this will accelerate the ascension of women in leadership.

Gender is one of the most common diversity issues around the world, but that does not mean it can be addressed the same way everywhere. Chinese, French, Afghan and American women face circumstances and attitudes quite unique to their countries.

Also, women of different ethnic groups or socioeconomic classes within the same country face correspondingly varied challenges. It is not enough to talk about “women’s issues.” It is possible that “women’s advancement” has narrowly and unconsciously focused on white women, who indeed are making strides, albeit not nearly fast enough. In the past decade, women have achieved 50/50 parity as managers, yet reflect fewer than 18 percent of senior leadership positions. But if you dive below the surface you see the rising tide has not lifted all women. Within senior leadership positions in the U.S., Asian, African-American and Latina women represent 1.7 percent, 1.2 percent and 1 percent, respectively, for a collective total of just 3.9 percent of all senior managerial roles.

Further, a baby boomer professional woman with adult children may have little in common with her Gen Y counterpart who is just starting a family and is dealing with issues of child care and balance. Or a Gen X without children. Or the growing number of women who are choosing not to have any children, ever.

“It was 10 years ago that I was contemplating both motherhood and my career, and how I could potentially balance both,” said Jeanine Amilowski, director of research at Korn Ferry. “I grew up living in a very close extended family with a strong belief in the African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ When the career choices of my husband and I took us 900 miles away from our family, the village I grew up in didn’t appear. Access to child care and workplace flexibility were not openly discussed in the work environment, and it influenced my personal decision not to have children. And even when women affinity-group programs emerged, they are mostly designed around work-life balance, maternity issues and breastfeeding.”

This also upends gender dynamics between men and women. More professional women in developed and emerging economies postpone marriage and children, while in certain societies men are sharing more household duties and an increasing number of women earn more than their partners. Male identity—for centuries associated with “breadwinner,” “protector” and “leader”—is shifting. Men, particularly Gen Xers and Gen Yers, are assuming identities such as “nurturer,” “supporter” and “primary parent.”

Talent Strategies

A few years ago a large consumer goods corporation came to us for help because their women of color were reporting significantly less job satisfaction, lower trust scores and markedly higher intention to leave compared with all other demographic groups of employees.

This had to be tackled in a multidimensional way, looking at the intersection of race and gender. Women of color cited difficulties developing authentic relationships with their managers. In response, we implemented a multiyear diversity and inclusion initiative, which included coaching sessions that paired women of color with their managers for reciprocal learning. These sessions focused on solidifying relationships, discussing workplace challenges and talking about advancement opportunities.

After the four-year program, managers saw changes in their own behaviors. They ended up helping their direct reports gain exposure to key decision makers in the company, were more aware of their similarities to and differences from their direct reports (45 percent increase), understood better how to motivate and inspire their direct reports (35 percent increase) and had regular discussions with their direct reports regarding career paths (31 percent increase). Conversely, women of color reported gains in understanding how they uniquely add value to the company (24 percent decrease in unfavorable responses and 17 percent increase in favorable responses), significantly higher levels of job satisfaction and significantly lower levels of intention to leave than they had before. Their positive perceptions of the company’s commitment to their long-term growth and development increased from 51 percent to 70 percent.

Most tellingly, the program also sped up their rates of promotion by six months or more and decreased turnover by 50 percent. Within four years, the number of executive-level women of color doubled from 60 to 120, and representation increased from 4 percent to 6.7 percent.

Diversity of One demands recognizing the realities of gender dynamics as well as the choices and circumstances that lead to the vast diversity of women throughout the work force.

Disability Diversity: Who Is Truly Disabled?

We now have athletes with prosthetic legs competing for gold in the Olympics, and it’s not the Paralympics. I know a proofreader who is blind who outperforms her seeing peers in accuracy, an industry-shaping chief diversity officer who is 4 feet tall and leaders of social-change movements who use wheelchairs for mobility.

But today, still, walk into the corridors of most companies, and it is rare to see a student or employee with a visible disability. Given the types of skills and talents that can be found among people with disabilities, we should be seeing them by the dozens. But the resistance is fiercely passive. Few believe that people with disabilities are viable employees. And while few will say it aloud, most also worry about the potential costs of accommodation.

Even when the intentions are good, there is a dearth of understanding of how to make things appropriately accessible, which goes much further than providing “handicapped” parking spaces and wheelchair ramps. Based on focus groups we have done, people with partial vision impairment need training enrollment forms that enable them to easily indicate they need an accommodation so they are not trapped in a Koosh ball–tossing exercise that can end up humiliating them. Or employees with hearing impairments who resent having to beg IT to upgrade their accessible computer or telephone when new software comes out. Or worse, having to educate IT about technology that has been available but untapped for years. (How many have to worry about keeping track of whether it’s time for IT to upgrade our Microsoft Office suite?)

Talent Strategies

Companies small and large are figuring this out. When it comes to hard-core business operations, the Danish software quality-check company Specialisterne (the Specialists) hires for the competence of autism, seeking those with photographic memory and obsessive attention to detail who can spot an error in millions of lines of code.

Walgreens is learning this at a massive scale. A few years ago they decided to build their new distribution center (the size of 10 football fields serving 800 stores in eight states throughout the South and mid-Atlantic regions) in Anderson, S.C., using “universal design,” an architectural approach that takes into account the vast diversity of needs across the whole ability-disability spectrum. They also provided disability inclusion training to all, even employees with disabilities who needed to learn about disabilities different from their own.

The results were stunning. With 40 percent of employees having some form of physical or cognitive disability, the center benefitted not only from the positive feelings of authentic inclusion but also financially. Of all the distribution centers in the Walgreens system, Anderson is the top performer, by 20 percent or more.

In both of these companies, disabilities are not detriments—rather, they are the very thing that has driven them to high-impact effectiveness as the commitment to disability inclusion leads to higher engagement, presenteeism, loyalty and continuous improvement. Companies now are emulating the Walgreens model, including Brazilian cosmetics multinational Natura as they build their new distribution center outside of São Paulo.

This also makes me think about those of us who believe we have no disabilities. Don’t we all need chairs to give us stamina, lights to see, amplification systems to hear, climate control for comfort and weekends to unwind? Our physical and mental limitations are being accommodated every moment of every day at great cost … a cost that no one questions. And yet when it comes to access and opportunity for the disabled, in nearly every place around the world we hear business leaders balk and resist because it’s deemed too costly and too difficult.

Diversity of One. Stop and think about it. Who is disabled? It is, indeed, each and every one of us.

Building an Effective and Flexible Platform for Diversity of One

Contemporary diversity is laying waste to Diversity 1.0’s simplistic categorizations. So as molecular scientists design drugs for individuals, how do we affordably design human performance systems that allow for Diversity of One?

For innovative help, we need look no further than our smartphones. Apple’s iTunes platform provides the inspiration.

In the days of the mass-produced compact disc, music industry executives had the final say on the set list, and the masses had no choice but to buy “as is.” But, as we have all experienced via iTunes, that limitation has been obliterated as we customize our music collections. iTunes allows music fans to create highly personalized multidimensional genre mixes that make us groove, bop and thrive. It was digital technology that made possible what had in the past been impossible to do in a cost-effective way.

Human capital management must find its equivalent and use the available technology to address Diversity of One. Our systems need to be about ultraflexibility to meet the needs of ultradiversity.

We need platforms that all talent can access online, tailored to meet their career ambitions and needs. But these tools need to churn out customized assessments, profiles and developmental plans that the talent, leaders and their managers can mold into a “set list” that captures their Diversity of One.

But there is one major caution before we charge up this hill: The rethinking of diversity does not release us from the obligation of tending to the unfinished business of Diversity 1.0.

There will always be room for programs and approaches that address the needs of groups that have been stigmatized and marginalized by society. While ultradiversity is the new game in town, it is undeniable that the social constructs that lead to racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism are still alive and well.

Race still matters for the young black male driving or walking down the street. Gender still matters as long as women are earning 80 cents to the man’s dollar in the U.S. and even less in other countries. Disability still matters when those who need access face the lack of wheelchair ramps or braille signs or closed captions. Homophobia still matters as long as there are laws that allow some who are LGBT to be fired, refused services, fined, jailed or even put to death.

But even here, we must get past the unidimensional labels. The past’s simpler notions of how to resolve inclusion of blacks and other minorities (eliminate segregated lunch counters and seating areas in buses, protect the right to vote, outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of race and gender) are no longer enough. Today the processes of talent assessment, high-potential identification, leadership development, advancement and onboarding must avoid not only “old fashioned” explicit discrimination but the invisible forces of unconscious bias as well.

Instead of thinking about the diversity of groups in simplistic ways we must think about the diversity within each individual. Because when all is said and done, it’s a Diversity of One world. We must ensure that we make every one count.

Authors

  • AndrĂ©s Tapia

    Senior Client Partner

    Bio >