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Innovation through DEI

Recently, I have been noticing the similarity between aspects of the culture of organizations that excel at innovation and the values and behaviors of organizations that exhibit a strong commitment to Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI). For example, creating relationships of trust, encouraging constructive dissent (comfortably expressing differences of opinion), transparency about processes and intentions, and patterns of collaboration and reciprocation are all critical values and behaviors for both organizational innovation and DEI.

Thinking about this relationship more deeply, I’d like to restate it: In order to have a constructive impact, the commitment to DEI must be supported by an organizational culture, value orientations, and behaviors that also drive innovation in organizations. For example, ‘psychological safety,’ which we know to be a key element of high performing teams from Amy Edmondson’s (Professor at the Harvard Business School) research and writing, is part of “encouraging constructive dissent.” In the DEI context, successful implementation means more than simply including individuals from marginalized groups on the team. It involves making a space to listen to their points of view and concerns, respecting and inviting different and unexpected opinions and insights, offering opportunities for professional development, and viewing differences in background and perspectives, as well as mistakes as learning opportunities.

Robin Ely, also a Professor at the Harvard Business School, writes about the importance of fostering a learning orientation in the context of DEI. She calls on leaders to be curious, vulnerable, and to encourage honest discourse to build trust and a climate of psychological safety. She highlights as part of the DEI equation the importance of sharing power, that is, offering those from less represented groups an opportunity to influence “what and how work is done.” And she emphasizes the leader’s role in modeling a learning orientation by trying to better understand why the systems and processes that undermine equity in our organizations exist.

It’s true. DEI is about change at an individual and organizational or systemic level. It is about transformation of both mindset and individual behavior, as well as changes in policies and practices at the organizational level. However, developing a learning orientation toward DEI with curiosity, a dose of vulnerability and the willingness to take risks, knowing that you might make a mistake, are good places to start. It is also important to develop skills and tools to better navigate difficult and inclusive conversation. And this is where our workshop, Candor & Diplomacy, comes in. Our objective is to support you in expanding your capacity for more effective, compassionate, and inclusive conversation through a deeper understanding of the dilemma of Candor & Diplomacy in the Context of Race and Racism.

Join us on Friday March 25 for our on-line workshop, Candor & Diplomacy in the Context of Race and Racism, when we will both “challenge you to explore and create a psychologically safe space for you to do so” as we delve into the tensions around choices about when, where, how, and with whom to share challenging points of view. And, why this tension is usually more frequent and acutely felt by leaders of color and others outside the power group. We will also practice ways to navigate these conversations with greater ease and more inclusivity, and ultimately greater success.

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