‘No justice, no peace’
We all understand this phrase in the context of our larger society. If we don’t have fairness, due process, appropriate consequences, and a semblance of equal opportunity, we cannot have a harmonious society. The most evident examples of this philosophy can be seen with events such as the OJ Simpson trial, Rodney King, Treyvon Martin and the many subsequent shootings of unarmed black men, all sparking outrage nationally or even internationally. Similarly, relationships where fairness and reciprocity do not exist tend to be troubled (for example, see J. Nicholson).
The importance of equity is evident on both a macro and micro scale. What about in between? What is the importance of justice in a group or on an organizational level?
A 2014 report by Coffman and Neuenfeldt at Bain & Co. demonstrate that companies that provide a sense of gender equity in career opportunity and advancement tend to have higher levels of satisfaction and engagement by both men and women, which then correlates with better business outcomes. The report then explains how women’s ambitions and confidence erode in the workplace over time, in part due to the workplace culture, too few role models, and implicit bias. Bain then makes a broad set of recommendations for promoting equity in the workplace, primarily by having managers on the frontline and organizational leaders globally “encourage, develop and support their female employees.” Finally, the report suggests the power of encouragement at all levels as key to fostering confidence in others.
On the other hand, there is also a risk to taking a half-hearted or poorly-managed approach to equity efforts, which may then result in equity and diversity in name only (EDINO; I made up that term). As a double minority, I am acutely aware of the companies that have speeches, branding and policies that promote equity and diversity. Ad campaigns, marketing materials, and programs that demonstrate commitment to diversity is terrific. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that you would find no minorities (or only negative stereotypes) in print or television, and silence on the need to create equity in the workplace.
However, if that same company that brags about their commitment to diversity still has substantial pay discrepancies or persistent underrepresentation at the higher levels or in certain units, you may have a company that has EDINO. True, the organization may be in evolution and in the midst of creating what is, in effect, slow change and is actually living its values in word and action despite appearances. On the other hand, progress that is inordinately slow or intractable may be the result of hidden, competing values. Those competing values may have to do with implicit bias, but other factors may also be invisibly at play. For example, resistance to any kind of change, a desire to protect existing privilege or status, especially one’s own, ineffective leadership or management, lack of effective training to identify and overcome implicit bias, or a misguided belief that ignoring or burying diversity concerns is in the best interest of the organization may be undermining an organization’s ability to create real change. Structural issues, such as the institution’s policies and procedures or the informal practices regarding hiring and promoting may also be making the change more difficult.
In other words, there may be bona fide issues above and beyond implicit bias that may be contributing to maintaining the status quo. Regardless of true intent, the gap between what the organization says and does will not be lost on its employees and the community. Not only is the organization failing to enjoy the many benefits that diversity brings to the workplace, but now they have a hypocrisy issue as well.
On an individual level, this gap between one’s stated beliefs and actions results in cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort that results from competing beliefs, or when we act in ways that are contradictory to our beliefs. When I am experiencing cognitive dissonance, I use self-reflection to identify my underlying beliefs, followed by serious evaluation to resolve that conflict. This reflective process creates the pathway where I act in ways that align with my values. This process of reflection, analyzing, trying something new, then evaluating the outcome is how we learn about ourselves and to better navigate our world. Like individuals, organizations that take the time and effort to learn and grow will be more knowledgeable and enjoy better outcomes.
I’m not going to lie (believe me!): this process takes effort, time and even some courage. We have to be able and willing to look at ourselves and admit some hard truths. I’m not always able and willing to do that since it’s easier to blindly believe in and defend my virtue. However, once I have accepted an unpleasant truth, I feel a sense of relief that I can now address a problem directly and effectively. Forward progress is made possible by forgiveness: a realization that I’m only human and it is my destiny to struggle and fail on the path to success.
Resources: Government Equalities Office, Department of Business Innovation & Skills, Business case for equality and diversity, January 2013; Immunity to change: How to Overcome It, Lahey & Kegan Harvard Business Press, 2009.