Diversity Or Integration, What's The Difference, Why Bother?

2013 03-10 DiversityStock_000014186302XSmallLately I have had a number of conversations with the leaders I work with about the challenges of adding diversity to their organizations. Diversity comes in several flavors. There are the traditional forms of diversity – gender, race, ethnicity and sexual preference. It also comes when someone from the outside joins an existing culture.

Some organizations handle this “integration” well and some don’t. Why?  My sense is the answer lies in how intentional the leader is about both the spoken and unspoken characteristics of their culture.

The word integration is rarely used today. It harkens back to the 1970’s when schools were being “integrated”. Fights broke out, learning became challenging and it was largely viewed in retrospect as an experiment that failed. And, this “experiment” for me provides learning for leaders who want to diversify their organizations.

Integrating- Merriam Webster “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole”

Isn’t this exactly what we are wanting to do when we diversify? And…Diverse teams are hard…they are harder to build, are unlikely to come to consensus and are more likely to have conflict.

So, why bother?  Because… they are harder to build, are unlikely to come to consensus and are more likely to have conflict, they make better decisions. Research studies prove this.

What to do?
Diversity is not always the best approach. Homogeneous groups are easier. Because of their similar backgrounds, preferences and styles they are likely to agree and move forward quickly.
  • If the goal is getting more of what you already have, then a homogeneous group may be the way to go.
  • If the goal is innovation and critical thinking, you are more likely to get there with a diverse group.

If you decide you want to build a diverse team, first begin by defining what you are looking to accomplish with the diversity. Then ask yourself the following questions as you begin to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole:

  • Do I know the backgrounds, preferences, and styles of current team members?
  • What actions do I need to take to learn this information about my current team?
  • Have we defined our culture? And, even if we have, what are the unspoken characteristics of our culture?
  • What actions do I need to take to learn this information about my culture?
  • What on-boarding actions do I need to take to achieve integration?

Elisa K. Spain