Achieving True Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity in Our Lifetime 

Jim Robinson moderating a panel at the Future of Leadership Conference, hosted by the George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership in Washington DC.

Jim Robinson moderating a panel at the Future of Leadership Conference, hosted by the George Washington University Center for Excellence in Public Leadership in Washington DC.

Jim Robinson, GW-CEPL Executive Director

There has been a lot of consideration given recently to the issues and concerns regarding diversity, inclusion, and systemic racism. We have become more sophisticated in our appreciation that diversity includes much more than race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, or expression. It includes such differences as thinking styles, communication, interaction styles, and much more.

We have seen the research on organizational performance, which shows time and again that more diverse teams make better decisions, and solve problems more creatively. We have come to understand, often through the ‘school-of-hard-knocks’, that stakeholder diversity is critical when making decisions that cross organizational boundaries. We need multiple perspectives if we are to craft systemic solutions that truly address the complexities of our most vexing and persistent challenges.

What is True Diversity and What is Stopping Us from Achieving It?

Still, too often, our first instinct is to gather those around us who are most like us. Sometimes, these similarities disguise themselves by appearing in different demographics, and other kinds of diversities. But when we look closer, we begin to discern similarities of professional background, thinking preferences, or shared values. We may suddenly recognize that we gathered people around us who look at problems through the same set of conceptual lenses. And so, the result is too often a kind of “groupthink”.

Those who do not share our approaches or views of the world are sometimes included, but on the periphery, and their contributions are marginalized. And so, we miss a treasure chest full of alternative thinking and subtle distinctions that can make a significant difference in the range of solutions we consider.I have come to think that one of the most difficult kinds of diversity to include are those related to power differentials. So often we want to make decisions without involving our frontline workers, or hearing the voices of citizens from economically and socially disadvantaged communities who will be deeply affected by our actions.

Our professional arrogance leads to really poor decisions, which cannot realistically be implemented by those charged to do so, or which are peremptorily rejected by the citizens we are here to ‘save’.

This is not late-breaking news for you. You know this and you have seen and experienced the frustrations and unintended consequences of ‘arrogance run amok’.

The Vaccine to Poor Leadership Decisions?

One antidote for this kind of exclusion and diminishment is to deliberately empower those most directly affected. We can choose to vest them with the skills, the information, the technology, and the authority to make or, at least, participate equally in the decisions which will impact them.

This is done, not so that they will become ‘mini-me’s’ – thinking like us, but, rather, so that they will bring their own lived wisdom and experiential learning to bear in both understanding the problem and crafting its solution.

This has to be done in a partnership with us that is not paternalistic, but rather built on true respect for the knowledge and sensitivities gained from lived experience.

The Center of Excellence in Public Leadership at George Washington University (GW CEPL) offers programs for women at every level of their leadership journey to help address the early socialized habits, as well as the workplace and life challenges that often hold women back from pursuing increased responsibility, while supporting their growth and development.

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Global Women’s Leadership Program (#GWLP) provides game-changing leadership strategies that will transform your mindset and expand your sphere of influence as a woman leader. Program is designed for global executives.