Diverse experiences help shape us; I know every time I experience something new or different, it’s as if a new part of my brain awakens. When I went to Europe for the first time as a 15-year-old, seeing history all around me opened me up to a new perspective on the world, and it helped make me who I am today.
This past week, I participated in a workshop on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, hosted by Learning House’s VP of Human Resources, Kelly Sweasy. My chief takeaway from the workshop and my subsequent conversation with Kelly was this: Focusing on diversity and inclusion as a strategy is valuable both professionally and personally, and it’s the right thing to do. I am proud of our efforts toward diversity and inclusion here at Learning House, but there’s a lot more work to do.
Why Focus on Diversity?
As a company, Learning House must comply with specific legal requirements as far as diversity goes. Beyond that, though, diversity provides tangible benefits to our business. When we include employees from a variety of backgrounds, we each gain the opportunity to expose ourselves to unfamiliar viewpoints and to learn from each other’s unique cultural perspectives. This makes us stronger; the more different viewpoints we have on a given initiative or problem, the more likely we are to find a solution that works for a large number of people.
“Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers,” according to human resources expert Josh Bersin. “In today’s global business environment — filled with challenges in demographics, skills, and culture — companies that build a truly inclusive culture are those that will outperform their peers.”
His research speaks for itself. Companies that push for greater diversity and inclusion tend to see benefits like the following:
- 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee.
- 1.8 times more likely to be adaptable to change.
- 1.7 times more likely to innovate.
- 3.8 times more likely to coach employees toward improved performance.
- 2.9 times more likely to produce leaders.
Complexities Around Diversity and Inclusion
For a long time, diversity models have focused primarily on visually identifiable indicators of diversity, like race or gender presentation. These indicators, while still important and necessary, have become increasingly unreliable as a sole means of hiring for diversity, because many traits that promote a wider cultural perspective aren’t visually identifiable. Traits like sexual orientation, gender identity, age and nation of origin are much harder to identify in a potential hire, and many of them are also illegal (and, in many cases, disrespectful) to ask about in an interview.
Remote work has also made visual identifiers of diversity less relevant. Workers and managers may not see each other or even talk to each other with voice communication on a regular basis. Much of our work gets accomplished via nonverbal, nonvisible means such as email, Slack and sending documents to each other through Dropbox. However, this phenomenon cuts the other way, too. Because it’s so easy for us to use these tools to communicate, we often communicate far more frequently. Because of this, some of those nonvisible indicators of diversity start to become exposed to each other. The recent election, for example, has caused people to share their political views much more openly than we have in the past.
All of these diverse traits are valuable, no matter how difficult they might be to discern at times. Every way in which a person is different affects their worldview, and diverse worldviews help us understand our world more fully. We may not be able to readily identify where coworkers came from or what their religion or sexual orientation is, but that just means it’s more incumbent upon each of us to be aware of our own prejudices and biases. While old diversity programs focused on identifying differences, today we must focus on recognizing our own cultural perspectives and seeking to broaden our familiarity with other perspectives. Seeking to broaden our cultural perspectives leaves us open to knowledge and learning. In other words, by focusing on diversity, we exhibit a growth mindset.
How Can We Focus on Diversity?
Kelly recently read an excellent book on diversity called Building a House for Diversity by Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr. The book is a parable about a giraffe and an elephant and the tensions and dynamics associated with these two working together. Thomas introduces a concept called the Personal Diversity Maturity Index, which helps individuals gauge their ability to work in diverse environments. A person with high diversity maturity, for example, would exhibit these traits:
- Acknowledge being diversity challenged — I recognize that I am influenced by my biases, assumptions and stereotypes
- Recognize the cost of being challenged — I realize my biases impact productivity
- Accept diversity management responsibilities — I am part of the solution
- Demonstrate contextual knowledge — I know myself, my organization and how diversity helps
- Act on the basis of requirements — I make decisions based upon requirements versus what I like, what I’ve usually done or what is easiest
- Challenge conventional wisdom — I go against the grain based upon requirements
- Engage in continuous learning — I don’t have all the answers and am willing to learn
- Cope with diversity dynamics — I work with, not against, the tensions and complexity that come with diversity
How Do Diversity and Inclusion Fit Into Learning House?
At Learning House, our diversity and inclusion goal is to Foster an Environment Where Every Employee Can Contribute Their Full Authentic Self. We strive to provide an environment where every employee feels safe, valued and respected. This will enable us to achieve our mission: Helping People Improve Their Lives Through Education.
Our diversity and inclusion goal is fully aligned with both our Primary and Secondary Colors, as defined in The Learning House Way, and supports our culture of Total Motivation. As a reminder, here’s a summary of our colors. If you look carefully, you’ll see that diversity and inclusion are baked into each of these.
- Growth: At the core of this value is continual learning: seeking to understand each other and the differences and uniqueness we can each bring to Learning House.
- Servant Leadership: We support each other, show gratitude, bring passion and express honest feelings.
- Total Ownership: We lead by example in providing an open, safe environment and by not tolerating any behaviors that prevent employees from being their full selves.
- Humility: We cultivate an awareness of what we don’t know and seek to understand individual differences.
- Transparency: We avoid talking negatively about clients or coworkers without seeking solutions.
- Celebration: We celebrate the unique contributions each employee brings to Learning House.
- Communication: Clear, open communication helps us not shy away from tensions or misunderstandings.
- Self-Awareness: Be aware of our own biases and prejudices.
As Learning House continues to expand and hire more people, diversity and inclusion become more important. Where we were once just online learning for colleges, in the last two years we have expanded to include technology bootcamps through The Software Guild, direct-to-student offerings through Advancement Courses and international student recruitment through Learning House International. To meet the diverse demands of our students and partners, we each must support diversity and inclusion, and value the viewpoints and experiences of our coworkers, partners and students.
How do you support diversity during your day? How has someone else’s experience helped you excel at your job?