“Belonging can also be thought of as a longing to be” - Peter Block
“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of not belonging” - Mother Teresa
Diversity Developments. What’s the Buzz?
Why, in this data-overloaded world full of new technologies and techniques, does knowledge take so long to spread? Literally since the last century (!) I have been exhorting leaders to harness the richness of diversity and benefit from a massive impact on organisational performance. Diversity unleashes creativity, increases engagement, leads to better sense-making, problem solving and decisions.
Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD André ”. (Laurent, A. 2019)
Subsequent research has verified his discovery. And we now see that:
· workplaces around the world are becoming more diverse
· societal tensions around matters of difference put pressure on organisations to act deftly and with urgency
· the jury is in: diversity holds the potential to impact positively on organisational performance. It should be seen as an opportunity to be grasped and not as an issue to be ‘managed’
· many commentators now speak of developing workplace diversity beyond inclusion, to belonging
· a large number of approaches and methods are being advocated (Bookstore shelves creak under the weight of diversity and inclusion books - many about ‘what’ to do, and far fewer on ‘how’ to do it)
Leaders are faced with a decision on the extent to which they wish to “push” internal diversity, and to what end:
Their choice will determine the ‘intervention’ programme that they opt for. In considering their options, organisational leaders need to fully understand:
· what is meant by the notions of diversity and belonging
· how they may go about putting their decided, desired position in place
After you have considered the following notes on diversity and belonging and thought about the position you feel is right for your own situation; we offer a menu of approaches and activities that will help you engage with the thinking, feeling and doing that may hold merit for your organisation.
Diversity of viewpoints and approaches strengthens decision-making, sustainability and performance. It is essential to the well-being of our communities, including workplace communities. “Observing nature, we see that diversity is essential to balance, wholeness, and resilience. Ecosystems thrive when a variety of species of plants and animals nourish each other. Diverse environments are much stronger and less susceptible to pests and disease than mono-crop fields. The world is a relational system full of complex inter-dependence among very different creatures. If we want
sustainable communities, we must always welcome the “other” and learn to see our neighbor as ourselves. Without it, we do not have community at all, but just egoic enclaves”. (Rohr, R. 2016)
Diversity comes in many guises. It is not confined to the usual categories that we focus on the most: ethnicity, religion, age, gender. The types of diversity are legion. As an example, take one of the lesser known experiential and behavioural differences between people, captured by construal level theory. (Hamilton, R. 2015)
In essence, the theory holds that psychological-distance gaps between people arise from dimensions of the:
· temporal distance (past present or future focus)
· social distance (connection push or pull)
· spatial distance (physical location from face to face, next door, faraway places, ‘boardroom and garden’ situations)
· experiential distance (reality, perception, sensation, imagination, dreams, reverie)
How people perceive, behave, decide, connect – are functions of these dimensions, and clashes occur when there is ‘distance’ or difference between them. (Williams, G with Rosenstein, D. 2016)
Overcoming these gaps and enabling belonging requires us to become what evolutionary psychologist Peter Gilbert terms being “prosocial”.
People don’t always see eye to eye. Each person’s experiences, exposure to various influencers, and their conditioning, lead them to their own protective filters, stereotyping, perceptions, cognitive understanding, prejudices and biases (conscious and unconscious) and determine how they relate to others – especially those from different cultures, ethnicities, religions, belief systems, social classes, genders, sexual preferences, ages, personalities, education levels, language, lifestyles, thinking styles, physical and mental abilities, areas of special giftedness, roles... and so on.
“…we every one of us have our peculiar den, which refracts and corrupts the light of nature, because of the differences of impressions as they happen in a mind prejudiced or prepossessed”. (Francis Bacon)
More than we are consciously aware, this conditioning, socialisation and acculturation steers how we make selections for jobs and teams, rate performance, make promotion decisions, who we choose to befriend, how we live our lives. And yet we can bridge differences for our greater and mutual benefit. To paraphrase Rumi: Out beyond ideas of religious and other codes, rules, ideas and belief or disbelief in these practices, there is a field of unconditional and transcendent compassion and love, where we are fully connected, are as one. I'll meet you there.
There is no denying the strong basic human yearning to belong, to find our ‘home’. On Abraham Maslow’s famous needs hierarchy, being loved and belonging is followed by finding our self-esteem on the path to self-actualisation. Belonging is a primary intrinsic motivation. Published in 1845, Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling is referred to by Clarissa Pinkola Estés as “a psychological and spiritual root story ... one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact, further progression is shaky ...” She illuminates, “… when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgement and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before. Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness”. (Estés, C. P. 2008)
So we search in our homes, relationships, churches, synagogues, mosques, sanghas, sorbets, clubs, schools, communities and institutions, workplaces, even gangs - for safe places where we feel that we belong, are loved, can live meaningful lives, experience well-being, find our identity. (Wilson, R.E. Jr. 2018)
At work, we look for:
- the spirit of this workplace
- a sense that people love their work
- recognition, acceptance and being treated as a real, unique person
- genuine, authentic community
- knowledge that what we do is worthy of the long hours spent and the commitment made
· a place where we can exercise our special areas of giftedness
Some will use the example of a machine gunner and ammunition-belt-feeder together in a foxhole, facing a common enemy. They don’t have to be friends to get the job done. They need to be competent, and appreciate and respect the other’s competence.
However, wherever possible, most opt for friendship, the discovery of kindred souls, a space where members ‘have each other’s backs’, and see each other through - rather than see through each other. A place where they feel at home. So I prefer Piero Ferrucci’s story of a man allowed to visit heaven and hell while alive. In hell people sat at tables where the most marvellous feast was laid out. But they were miserable, emaciated. Their eating utensils were too long, so they couldn’t feed themselves. In heaven he found exactly the same situation except here people were happy and healthy. They fed each other. (Ferrucci, P.2004)
Like wild geese or carrier pigeons we have a homing instinct. But, a cautionary word: this ‘homing instinct’ can sometimes lead to a fitting-in bias, which results in a few to behaving in safe, politically correct and conforming ways – even at the expense of honest self-expression, suppressing the creative tension of difference, and transparency. A ‘muzzling’ of their true feelings and opinions (and ability to ‘shine’) occurs. This causes them and the team to operate well below full potential. (Gino, F. & Staats, B. 2015). However much desired by organisations, belonging cannot be forced, and must be authentic. It requires a psychologically safe environment where people are free to take off their masks, be real and vulnerable, reach out to and support each other, grow together.
What to implement and How to go about it?
At the end of this article is a menu of implementation options covering doing, thinking and feeling actions a leader can instigate. Hands, head and heart.
This menu is offered as a basis for your organisation (whatever its size, nature and maturity level) to embark on some serious conversations, to form views and ideas away from expert - vendor pressure, to avoid ‘me too-ism’ (as we’ve seen happen in so many cases of competitive positioning and strategy formation, the rush to learning organisations, undertaking vision, values, culture, higher purpose exercises), and to allow the people who do the work and populate the organisation to authentically craft a place where diversity-inclusion-belonging is not cynically hijacked for ulterior corporate motive. Rather, basic yearnings are genuinely catered for. A diverse place characterised by trust, friendship, fellowship, belonging and love. And members are able to share what has formed them, troubles them, inspires them.
A primary principle here is that “a lack of team psychological safety may inhibit experimenting, admitting mistakes, or questioning current practices in teams.” (Tofte, G. 2016, citing Edmondson, A.C. 1999)
The menu is designed to help you implement your decision on where you wish to be in the diversity stakes, and to inform your people development and supporting programmes, policies, processes, practices.
In deciding what actions to trigger, don’t underestimate the power on our lives of what we are so often unaware of: those unconscious forces pushing, pulling or constraining us; our built in, hidden impulses and drivers, often undetected. An illustration:
Dr Gabor Maté, interviewed by Tami Simon of Sounds True on Tues Mar 21, 2017, told of being in Budapest a day after the WWII German occupation, when he was 2 months old. His mother called their paediatrician: "Would you please come see my son? Because he's crying all the time". And the paediatrician says, "Of course I will come, but I should tell you (this) all my Jewish babies are crying". And so that anecdote told by my mother speaks to the very essence of childhood experience, which is to say that what happens to the parents happens to the child.
Unconscious bias may stay dormant for a long time. Years ago I was posted to London by my then employer, having spent my prior career in South Africa. I prided myself on being liberal, actively anti-apartheid and pretty much ‘together’ as a person. I felt very much at home in England. Not long after arriving I felt deep compassion at the plight of homeless people living under bridges, sleeping on cardboard, begging, angry, resentful, apathetic, cowed by life. I had never felt such intense compassion before.
After a while I was able to work out that, back home, all the homeless people I came across there were black. It took ages to face this unconscious conditioning and bias of mine, to come to terms with the shame that surfaced, and move forward with a changed perspective.
End Thoughts about Diversity at its best
When it comes to demonstrating the power of diversity, South Africa is no shining light. Why should I have the audacity to write for readers beyond our shores?! Surely there is more to be learned at a place like Auroville in Southern India. (“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity” - founder Mirra Alfassa. https://www.auroville.org/)
Nelson Mandela’s vision and ideals held much promise for a diverse, non-racial, ‘rainbow nation’ of equals. But 25 years later we are crippled by government corruption, incompetence, divisiveness, state creep and state capture.
Yet we still have something we can turn to, the social value of Ubuntu, which if taken up and applied, has much healing potential.
The Ubuntu concept, experience and practice of (expressed in Xhosa) umntu ngumntu
ngabanye abantu, recognises that people are people through other people (deeply interconnected), where the community-good holds sway, and where personal transformation takes place in a caring, compassionate, respectful, participative space. All belong.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is on record as saying, “You might have much of the world’s riches, and you might hold a portion of authority, but if you have no Ubuntu, you do not amount to much”. Applying Ubuntu allows people to move beyond their conditioned beliefs and values, stereotyping and prejudices - to find common ground and their shared humanity.
We can also offer the idea of isivivane. Isivivane is a Zulu / Nguni word, although the concept is also found in other African cultures including the Khoikhoi. It is a ‘collective’ sharing of a powerful higher purpose, the belief that all things and people are interconnected and bound together. In this ‘collective’ everyone’s role and effort is equally important, equally appreciated. The Zulu proverb Ukuphosa itshe esivivaneni means to make a personal contribution to a great and worthy task. Everyone who walks past an isivivane (pile of stones, place of importance) puts their stone on the pile that is a collective, co-operative, and growing monument. (Kokopelli Partners Limited. 2016). ‘ (Lessem, R. & Nussbaum, B. 1996)
Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging are three distinctly different concepts that deserve to come together. In a diverse workplace (where there are lots of differences), employees who feel included (recognised for their unique (sometimes potential) contribution and thus appreciated) get engaged and help boost performance, and if this can lead to a culture of real belonging (where people feel at home, see each other through) then something magical happens. To sum up, a lovely Shona proverb recounted by Lovemore Mbigi and Jenny Maree: chra chimive hachitswane inda : A thumb working on its own is worthless. It has to work collectively with the other fingers to get strength and be able to achieve. (Mbigi, L. & Maree, J. 1995)
The menu we have presented here is intended to be indicative and illustrative rather than comprehensive.
The boundaries between the hands, head and heart activities listed above are blurred and should not be seen to be fixed. On the other hand, it is possible to be trapped into one particular category – for example a tendency to place emphasis on ‘head’ activities (people analytics, neuroscience and behavioural economics) to the exclusion of hands and heart needs.
*In the Jewish tradition, there is the idea of Midrash. Midrash involves fleshing out a story we only have the barest details for – the bones of the story. Re-telling a story, filling in the gaps in order to expand, putting oneself into another character and supplying details that are not recorded. This allows for different interpretations of meaning and personal revelations and insights. Often a different picture brings deeper understanding
** Culturescan process: https://culturescan.biz/conversations-that-count-process/ and
*** Blend bees and butterflies. To imbed and connect projects to the rest of the organisation, ensure that projects are not ‘secret’ and hidden, are widely owned. Project team members are bees - devoted to the hive of activity happening within the project. Wherever possible, they actively encourage visits by, progress sharing with and process inputs from affected internal departments, external stakeholders and HR and IT (to the extent that these functions are not sufficiently embodied in the project membership) - butterflies. This is an open, accepting, inclusive technique. (Williams, G. 2019)
© Graham Williams, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2009) The danger of a single story.
Audia, Pino (2012) G. Train Your People to Take Others’ Perspectives. http://hbr.org/2012/11/train-your-people-to-take-others-perspectives/ar/1?referral=00056&cm_mmc=hbd-_-
Block, Peter (2018) Community: the structure of belonging Abundant Community, July 16, 2018
Edmondson, A. C. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383. Retrieved from https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/53613/Team-psychological-safety-as-a-moderator-in-the-relationship-between-team-leadership-and-team-learning-in-management-teams.pdf
Estés, Clarissa Pinkola (2008) Woman Who Run with the Wolves: contacting the power of the wild woman Rider
Ferrucci, Piero (2004) What we may be: techniques for psychological and spiritual growth through psychosynthesis Jeremy P. Tarcher/ Penguin, New York
Gino, Francesca Prof (Harvard Business School) and Staats, Bradley, Assoc
Prof (Kenan-Flager Business School) (2015) Why Organisations Don’t Learn Harvard Business Review November, 2015
Hamilton, Rebecca (2015) Bridging Psychological distance March 2015 HBR
Kethledge, Raymond M & Erwin, Michael S. (2017) Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude Bloomsbury, 2017
Kokopelli Partners Limited - Advised by Eugenie Banhegyi, Steve Banhegyi, Jim Heaney Cougar and Ralf Sibande (2016)
Lessem, R & Nussbaum, B (1996) Zebra Press
Mbigi, Lovemore & Maree, Jenny (1995) Ubuntu: The Spirit of African Transformation Management Knowledge Resources, Randburg,
Rohr, Richard (2016) Daily Meditation: Community: Diversity in Community Centre for Action & Contemplation Friday 22nd April, 2016
Tofte, Guro (2016). Team psychological safety as a moderator in the relationship between team leadership and team learning in management teams. Master Thesis: Work and Organizational Psychology Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, 2016. (involving 135 Norwegian and 81 Danish leadership teams)
Williams, Graham (2019) How to Use Project Teams to Foster a Benevolent Leadership Culture Culture University Mar 12, 2019
Williams, Graham with Rosenstein, David (2016) From the Inside Out: the human dynamics of sustainability
Williams, Graham (2016) Ancient Wisdom for Modern Workplaces
Williams, Graham; Fox, Peter & Haarhoff, Dorian (2015) The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business Knowledge Resources
Wilson, Robert Evans Jr. (2018) Longing for Belonging: acceptance by a group is a fundamental human need.
Psychology Today Jul 16, 2018https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-main-ingredient/201807/longing-belonging