Thinkers50 Curated LinkedIn Live with Laura Morgan Roberts | Diversity at a Critical Juncture

 

Laura Morgan Roberts is a professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden school of business. Her research and consulting focus on the science of maximizing human potential in diverse organizations and communities. She has published over 50 research articles, teaching cases, and practitioner-oriented tools. She is also editor of three books: Race, Work and Leadership; Positive Organizing in a Global Society; and Exploring Positive Identities and Organizations.

Transcript:

Stuart Crainer:
Hello, welcome to the Thinkers50 radar, 2021 series brought to you with LinkedIn Live, I’m Stuart Crainer.

Des Dearlove:
I’m Des Dearlove and we’re the founders of Thinkers 50, the world’s most reliable resource for identifying ranking and sharing the leading management ideas of our age. Ideas that can make a real difference in the world.

Stuart Crainer:
Our belief in the power of ideas has been the foundation of our work since we launched the first ever global ranking of management thinkers in 2001. We’ve published a new Thinkers50 ranking every two years since, and it remains the premier ranking of its kind.

Des Dearlove:
So we’re excited that 2021, a year in which fresh thinking and human ingenuity are more important than ever, it’s also a Thinkers50 year.

Stuart Crainer:
Nominations are now open for above the ranking of management thinkers and the distinguished achievement awards, which the Financial Times very perceptively calls the Oscars of management thinking.

Des Dearlove:
Shortlists for the Thinkers50 awards will be announced during the summer. And then the years finale on the 15th and 16th of November, we’ll bring all the excitement of a new ranking and the naming of our Thinkers50 2021 award winners.

Stuart Crainer:
In this series of 30 minute webinars. We want to showcase some of the freshest and most interesting ideas and to bring in the new voices of management thinking.

Des Dearlove:
We want to really inspire you to seize this moment to create a better future for you and for your organization.

Stuart Crainer:
And our guest today is someone who will certainly help you achieve those objectives. She is Laura Morgan Roberts.

Des Dearlove:
Laura is a professor of practice at the university of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Her research and consulting focus on the science of maximizing human potential in diverse organizations and communities.

Stuart Crainer:
She has published over 50 research articles, teaching cases and practitioner oriented tools. She also edited free books, race work, and leadership positive organizing in a global society and exploring positive identities and organizations.

Des Dearlove:
So we have 30 minutes. So please share where you are joining us from today. Please post your questions as we go along. Now, we’ll hand over to you, Laura. The virtual stage is yours.

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Thank you so much, Des and Stuart. It’s a pleasure to be here with you and I’m so appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the Thinkers50 radar group. I’m going to offer up a conversation today about diversity at a critical juncture. Truly believe for a wide range of reasons that’s where we are right now in 2021. Now, a couple of years ago, my colleagues and I co-edited academy of management review, special issue. And we use the title Diversity at a Critical Juncture to talk about new theories. That was in 2018, 2019. Here we are at 2021. We’re on the precipice of diversity at a critical juncture in ways that we hadn’t even anticipated given the challenges that we face globally over the past year. But the question still remains. How do we bring out the best in ourselves and others and how do we make our best selves even better?

I would say that there’s a simple answer to this question with lots of research to support it. Valuing difference is critical for us to maximize our individual and collective potential. But I talk about diversity as a critical juncture because I think about critical in two ways. One is essential. Okay. But the other is that critical means to take a stance that is radical. It’s not the stance that people always take. It’s not the go to, or the default way of thinking about seeing or approaching a particular topic, challenge or issue. So with respect to diversity at a critical juncture, I come at it through two critical or radical ways. One, is through valuing difference itself. So we spend a lot of time focusing on problems, challenges, and shortcomings that emerge in diverse workplaces and societies. And I think that’s especially important, but we also want to focus on the strengths and opportunities and resources that our differences bring.

So the critical perspective is in recognizing analogy in the problems and also examining and uplifting the possibilities. That’s what it means to value difference. Or in other words, bring your A game to this work by acknowledging, affirming, and acting. Acknowledge the relevance that our diverse identities have for our careers, for our organizations, for our societies, but also means from acknowledging the role that bias, individual and systemic bias, play in making it more difficult or challenging for people to be able to activate their best selves at work. And that inhibits them from bringing out the best in others. Okay. So what do I acknowledge? The value? We also want to acknowledge the challenges and the difficulties. And then we want to move into affirmation. Now, the hard work can be the hard work. This is where we uplift and explore the value of diversity. And particularly with respect to marginalized groups, potential for growth and advancement, and then act to co-create the conditions in which people of all backgrounds can flourish.

What often happens though, instead of engaging in these three zones of action, instead we disengage from the work. We disengage from the conversations. We’d rather not deal with it. 2020 and 2021 has made that a lot harder to do for leaders of global organizations. It’s no longer functional or sustainable to be able to deny differences in the role that they play in our organizations and societies, or to spend our effort and time trying to defend our status or our power, our sense of self worth as members of a dominant group. But instead, opening up through acknowledging, affirming, and acting to create more inclusive organizations. So this is relational work. It’s not just about aspirations, mantras, statements and declarations, but it’s also about rolling up our sleeves and doing the work to build relationships across difference. And that’s what I study. And so there are a number of business outcomes that we can achieve if we’re willing to do the work of learning from and learning across differences Enhance creativity, decision making and market outputs so that we can have more access and more innovation.

And those are sustainable for global corporations and local corporations as well. But what we’ve also talked about in the past year is how to move beyond the business case. And I wrote about this in Bloomberg last summer. What does it mean for us to take up a moral perspective on doing this work and restoring some of the harm or the damage that has been done by [inaudible] disengagement from the work of valuing difference and what are the implications for equity, dignity, and justice. So, I’m not here to tell you what to think. By leaning into diversity at a critical juncture, I just want to offer you some insight about how to think about these kinds of questions and challenges, so you can make the best decisions for you and your organizations. So, let me share a bit of data with you and then we can have a dialogue about steps forward within this space. And I’m happy to clarify any of the terms and frameworks as well.

So a little bit of data. First, what’s the power of diversity? How does it benefit individuals and teams? I mentioned this previously, but I didn’t point then to the mechanism that Kathy Phillips, who was a professor at Columbia Business School discovered in her prolific research. One of my favorite articles is a piece called how diversity makes us smarter, that she published in Scientific American. And in that piece, she said, look, diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not. And she’s talking about being in the presence of all forms of diversity, not just diversity of thought, but looking around and seeing people who differ from you in the room. It helps us to be smarter and therefore make better decisions.

Now, McKenzie conducted research to examine people’s public opinion around their company’s efforts around diversity versus their efforts around inclusion. And you can see from this chart that people were more favorable about the diversity initiatives, just getting those people in the room who look different, come from different backgrounds, think differently. Focusing on representation was a more positive set of initiatives and organizations over 50%, right? So more than the majority of the respondents, that their organizations were invested in this doing pretty well in this, but on the inclusion side, there were more challenges. So let’s talk about inclusion a bit. According to Deloitte, organizations with inclusive cultures are more than twice as likely to exceed their financial targets. Three times it’s likely to be high performing. Six times as likely to be innovative and agile. Eight times it’s likely to achieve better business outcomes. And inclusivity or the inclusive climate results from having inclusive leaders.

So individuals who feel that they’re leaders practice inclusion also support more favorable experiences of fairness, respect, value, belonging, psychological safety, and inspiration at work, which then translates into a number of positive team performance outcomes as indicated on the slide. So what does it mean to practice inclusion on a day-to-day basis? It means looking around your team and your organization and trying to identify the valued resources that people have. What does each individual have to bring to the table? Now, if you are planning a potluck like we’ve done in places that I’ve worked, to communities where I’ve lived or holiday gatherings with my family, it’s pretty easy to determine what someone does well, that will compliment what other people are doing and help everyone as a whole to be fed and nourished. This is the same framework that we want to use around inclusion and organizations.

So this quote or definition by Ferdman, Prime and Riggio and their recently published book, Inclusive Leadership:
Transforming Diverse Lives, Workplaces & Societies, I think provides us an inspirational and educational understanding of inclusion. So, there are a lot of words on this slide, but they’re all important. What is inclusive leadership? It’s the leadership that promotes and facilitates experiences of inclusion for all across multiple identities and supports the development of work groups, organizations, and communities, even whole societies where diversity is a source of collective advantage. So again, we’re acknowledging and leading into diversity as a strength, and then we’re welcoming ideas, contributions, and direction, that is strategic direction, influence, from all types of people. And then last adding a moral perspective on this where equity and social justice are focal goals. It’s not just about getting more people in the room so they can translate into increasing more favorable business outcomes, but really trying to create work environments where people experience affirmation, dignity, and respect at work.

So as an individual, you can translate this into various forms of capital or resources that you could bring into the organization and inviting other people to bring these forms of resources into the organization as well. Sandra Cha and I wrote about this in our work, in positive organizing in a global society about how our forms of human capital, like our know-how, our technical acumen and skills, our formal and informal education and training, comes together with our psychological capital, think of how much of that you’ve used in the past year. Your resilience, your agility, your compassion, your creativity, and your social capital. Those powerful relationships and networks that you have, that help you to work together as a team. And then finally add your secret sauce to that. What’s your cultural capital? What makes you unique and distinctive? How were you raised in a way that gave you exposure to new perspective and new insights about the world, that maybe other people in your organization don’t have. And then activate those forms of cultural capital to help build your capacity and the capacity of others in your organizations.

So to summarize in bringing you A game to this work, at a critical juncture, you’re wanting to acknowledge, affirm and act. As we’re acknowledging, we’re acknowledging barriers around access, authenticity, advancement, and authority. Happy to talk more about those, if you have questions, but we want to, instead of denying that the barriers exist, acknowledge that they exist, affirm the resources that people bring to the table. The potential that members of marginalized groups hold. I conduct a lot of research on women of color because they tend to be marginalized and underestimated in work organizations. They represent less than 2% of senior executives around the world, or I’m sorry, around the US. And there are gender disparities among senior executives in both countries around the world. So you’re often feeling unseen and not getting the validation, the affirmation much less the opportunity needed in order to advance and exercise authority as leaders in organizations.

So when we look to act, we want to address the representation and pipeline issues around diversity. We’re concerned about experiences of inclusion and how we can shape the organizational culture and increase experiences of belonging. We’re concerned about equity. We want to make sure that we’re using fair and consistent metrics for evaluating performance, advancing and developing talent, using mentorship and sponsorship to build social capital in deliberate and equitable ways. And then finally thinking about justice in our organizations, and as people climb the ranks or progress through their careers. How do they have different opportunities to increase power and influence and exercise that power and influence in ways that are fair and just within our systems. Thank you. Looking forward to the dialogue.

Stuart Crainer:
Thanks Laura, I mean, obviously these are fantastic issues. So challenging for organizations. It strikes me, do we expect companies to take the lead in this? Or are they simply reflecting society?

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Historically, we have not expected companies to take the lead in this. Historically, companies have followed in the piece that reflects the title of my talk, Diversity at a Critical Juncture. My co-authors Stella Nkomo, Myrtle Bell, Sherry Thatcher, Aparna Joshi and I, we tracked the 60 year history of this work, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and we really found just that Stuart. That historically there was a lot of public legislation and then a lot of discrimination lawsuits that drove these kinds of initiatives. Now that we’re in 2021 of the 21st century, we see an opportunity. We see an opportunity for corporations to start leading in this work, being proactive, forming coalitions with other organizations or like-minded leaders to do this [inaudible] that provoke the changes and the new sets of initiatives, but instead it was grassroots activism and stakeholder pressure that motivated corporate leaders to speak up and stand out. But it still, to your point, was society influencing businesses in their work.

Des Dearlove:
You mentioned the diversity at a critical juncture. I think you used the word precipice to describe where we are right now. I mean, where are we? I mean, I know you’ve been studying this for a long time. Where are we now? Are we, I mean, obviously, you are arguing we’re at a critical juncture, but what are the characteristics of that critical place, where we are?

Laura Morgan Roberts:
From a representation standpoint, we have been stuck for a couple of decades around the percentage of non-white men in leadership roles, in high status occupations, having more access to social mobility through education, through lending institutions for banking and entrepreneurship and venture capital, all of that. Ways to increase your financial and social mobility. The structural gap in many cases was stagnant. In other cases, the data show certainly in the US, that structural inequality has been increasing in recent years. When I think about the processes of the past year, I also think about what the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed to us about equity and the lack thereof in our organizations. So as many organizations have started to explore who’s essential, who’s non-essential, who can work from home, who has to come in the office. Now that we’re moving out of quarantine experiences and starting to experiment more with hybrid techniques and remote techniques, who has access to those opportunities?

Are there new forms of privilege that we’re developing as a result of the coronavirus that we weren’t aware of before? And then we also know that there are certain populations within countries, in certain countries within the world who’ve been impacted much more significantly by the pandemic than others. India right now, for instance, is experiencing tremendous hardship in the face of COVID-19. And so, as we think about our global workforce, our supply chain and just the moral concern for others, all of these questions are in the forefront as we’re on the precipice of reshaping and reconstructing our workforce and our society post the COVID-19 experiences of quarantine and significant loss in death.

Stuart Crainer:
Joseph who’s watching from India says unless each of us experiences, what it truly feels like to be excluded I don’t think we will change. Alexandra from Poland has got an interesting long question. Recently Basecamp has involved in the scandal where it’s CEO, banned the employees from having societal and political discussions at work, resulted in mass departure of employees many of whom have been the company for years. Do you think that people are fed up with organizations that don’t reflect their values? Is there any sign that?

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Yes, I mean there’s data on younger generations, millennials to gen Z, that show that they even, from a consumer standpoint, they will spend more money on products that are produced by companies that align with their values. So they’ll pay a premium in their consumption for values alignment. So those standards and expectations are all also translating into their workforce experiences. They have technological access to voice and to have a platform to express their opinions and beliefs and find other people who think like them. And so they’re much more accustomed to sharing what they think and feel outside of work they’re bringing that into work. Okay. So across the board there are data that support that there’s a generational effect of that. With Basecamp was sort of an interesting little, real world experiment. What happened when senior executives say we want to compartmentalize, don’t bring that into the workplace.

Do senior executives have the right to say that? Sure they have the right to say that it’s a private company and then stakeholders have the right to respond. And I think in that storyline, we already know how the members of that organization responded to their leadership’s decision. We’ll see how this plays out in other organizations as well because many did sort of dip their toe in the water and start having these kinds of conversations in the past year that they’d not had before, but many leaders are not prepared to really hold the space and to translate those realizations into productive action. To change the organization and create better quality experiences.

Des Dearlove:
I thought I found it fascinating using term justice, because for years we had this kind of you had to make the business case. It had to be a practical case. It had to somehow be good for the business, but actually we should have been reaching, it seems to me, we should have been reaching for a moral high ground a long time ago. And now it sounds as though that’s beginning to be a feature and, of course, consumers potentially, and employees, it being a just organization hopefully could be a competitive advantage as well. But it’s a goal in itself just to strive for justice in equality of opportunity surely.

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Sure, sure. And the business case became very popular in the late 20th century and up through the early 21st century, when some of those legal mandates and expectations like affirmative action and quotas and so forth, fell out of favor in many places around the world. And people were looking for a different incentive or a carrot to give business leaders to help them to remain engaged in this work. Not just with the stick, not just with the compliance standpoint. And so they used that profit motive or the business case. My concern with using a business case, absent a justice case is that you can profit and we have historically profited from labor and occupational exploitation. A number of people. So there are things that we can do using a business this rhetoric that undermines the experience of justice and integrity inclusion. I think our challenge now does is to find a way to help them to work hand in hand, right? So that one can reinforce the other and we can have more sustainable impact.

Stuart Crainer:
As a comment from Hal Gregson, from MIT. Nice to hear from you, Hal. For non-innovative leaders easily more than half of the management population. I think you’re being kind there, Hal, their everyday action signal relative cluelessness about the superpower of difference when trying to make a creative difference. I think we would agree with that, I think.

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Yeah, I think we lean into routine and so differences can be seen as deviance and deviance is a distraction. It’s a problem. It takes us away from our focus and so annoyance for many, at best. For others, they may even see it as a violation. So part of our work has been in trying to understand and positive deviance. What does it mean to diverge from the routine, the standard protocol, the way of thinking doing, being. But do it in a way that adds value that strengthens the system, that helps us as organizations to do better and be better. But many managers are just not attuned to respecting or valuing any kind of deviance at all. It’s really about the routine and ensuring that people stick to the routine. So there’s a bit of a tension there.

Des Dearlove:
You mentioned the four types of capital. You talked about human capital, psychological capital, social capital, cultural capital. Tell more about cultural capital. That one really interests me.

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Yeah. So cultural capital are the knowledge and the insights and also the behaviors or the style that you are able to adopt, to show that you know how to fit into the culture or the environment in which you live. So you’re socialized into your cultural capital. So if your way of being that can show up in your language, again, it can show up in your behavior, your style, but it also shows up in your knowledge [inaudible] like how to do because of the environment in which you were raised and rewarded. Typically, in organizations, we have focused on socializing people to the organization, build the cultural capital to show that you are a team player. You are a solid member of the firm. You can assimilate and adapt into this organization.

And what Sandra Cha and I did in our piece was say, hey, when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, I want you to bring that other set of cultural capital into the organization as well because that’s going to help us to discover new ways of doing things, new markets that we might be able to tap into. It’ll raise some questions about ethics and justice that we may not have considered before, may not have been on our radar at all. But if you grew up in an environment or a context in which you know what it feels like to not have stable employment, to not have stable housing, to not have high quality healthcare, then as a manager or leader senior executive, you can make a different set of decisions for developing your workforce policies and benefits that reflect that cultural capital.

Des Dearlove:
And it seems to me that could be transformational, particularly when, if leaders bring a different… because otherwise you’re always going to fit in with the corporate culture that exists and that’s not going to change anything. You need people to bring their own secret sauce I think.

Laura Morgan Roberts:
That’s right. The secret sauce and all the leaders who are that I’ve spoken with, who are leading in diversity right now, have some personal story about why they’re doing this work and it relates to their cultural context to their cultural capital. The reasons that they personally care about this has to do with their exposure.

Des Dearlove:
Interesting.

Stuart Crainer:
We’re running out of time, but you’re working on an HBR piece at the moment. Laura, could you let us into a brief taste of what that’s about?

Laura Morgan Roberts:
I sure would love to, because that’s the last A when I talk about bringing you’re A game, this is the one that didn’t pop up on the slide. But I think it’s the question that it was our cliffhanger for 2020 and it’s accountability. So you have the aspiration, you make all of these commitments and your initiatives, you say we’re going to do better. What’s the accountability metric that you’re putting in place to ensure that you’re changing the organization in a way that will embody those commitments or aspirations. So are you setting explicit standards and targets? Are you holding individuals accountable by rewarding them for helping to move the needle? But are you also penalizing though, who are showing up as not doing the work and resisting, and that’s the cliffhanger? So I think we’ll leave it there. The penalty piece is something that organizations are still struggling with.

Stuart Crainer:
Is that slated to appear in HBR? When should we expect to see that?

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Whenever we finish our edits. But coming soon, coming soon.

Des Dearlove:
OK, Laura. Fantastic. Thank you.

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Thank you.

Stuart Crainer:
So you can check out Laura’s work. I’d recommend going to HBR and finding her articles there as we’ve heard, there’s another one coming out soon. Check out her website, alignmentquest.com. So Laura Morgan Roberts. Thank you very much for joining us this week and thank you everyone around the world for joining us as well. Next week, we’ll be talking to Matt Bean. Thank you very much.

Laura Morgan Roberts:
Thank you for having me.

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