New Perspectives on Workplace Diversity

April 21, 2015

Philanthropy Northwest is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion as key tenets of our culture, policies and processes. As the organization’s talent partner, eager to learn how others in our region think about diversity in the workplace, I joined 1,100 managers, human resource professionals, diversity specialists and employees at the Portland General Electric’s Diversity Summit 2015 earlier this month. Philanthropy’s now-common phrase, “diversity, equity and inclusion” was replaced with “diversity, inclusion and innovation” at the summit. Although the absence of an explicit equity discussion left me feeling as though an important opportunity was missed, I loved the addition of innovation because it created a sense of urgency and motivation to building an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Here are six of my favorite takeaways:

  1. Inclusion is more important than previously thought. While safety (physical, political, emotional and spiritual) drives productivity, new research claims that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not in the right order. A sense of belongingness (Maslow’s “social” tier) is even more important than physiological needs. Fostering a sense of belongingness with your employees is crucial to their success.
  2. Being excluded is painful — literally. Neuroscience research now shows that when you are not included in a social activity, brain scanners pick up a flurry of activity in your dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the region associated with the emotional aspects of physical pain. Inclusivity boosts employee’s productivity and morale.
  3. Inclusion leads to diversity. If you become known as an inclusive place of employment, people from all walks of life will be attracted to your organization. On the flip side, you can have a diverse staff, but unless you create an environment that allows for everyone to fully contribute and be valued, you will not reap the full benefits of a diverse team.
  4. Diversity drives innovation. The more diverse a team is, the more ideas will be generated, which leads to a greater probability of finding the innovative approaches that will keep your organization/company relevant, sustainable and primed to solve the big issues.
  5. We all have biases. When you shame or blame someone for their biases, you lose the opportunity for a meaningful conversation and the opportunity to see from someone else’s point of view. The goal is not to rid yourself of biases, but rather to understand that you have biases, what purpose they serve and examine how they are causing you to think a certain way about a specific situation.
  6. Bias runs deep. Hurricanes named after women are taken less seriously and thus have a higher death toll than hurricanes named after men! The list of shocking statistics about inequality of women and minorities was a wake-up call about how deeply our society’s cultural biases are embedded.

Embracing and nurturing a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion is deeply important work, both to society broadly and the philanthropic sector specifically. Here in the Pacific Northwest, philanthropy is doing some very compelling work to ensure it lives these values both internally in our organizations and through the work we do to build resilient, inclusive and equitable communities. Check out some of the “DEI” work Philanthropy Northwest is doing with our community: