Posts Tagged ‘diversity and inclusion’

Correlations are Not Enough: Does Diversity Really Work?

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

I was reading a recent McKinsey white paper, Delivering through Diversity. The report builds on a widely read 2016 report, Why Diversity Matters, enlarging the company sample set, examining a broader range of financial outcome measures, and collecting more qualitative data. The critical takeaway from the most recent report is that it “reaffirms the global relevance of the correlation between diversity (defined here as a greater proportion of women and ethnically/culturally diverse individuals) in the leadership of large companies and financial outperformance.”[1] The authors are careful to point out the correlation is not causation. Their results, they note, cannot make the case definitively that having more women or people of color increases firm performance.

This is the persistent challenge in establishing the link between diversity and bottom line performance. So many variable affect financial performance that, in most cases, it is almost impossible to say that more social identity diversity—diversity by gender, or ethnicity—is better for firm performance. What we do know is that the kind of diversity associated with those identities makes a difference. Diversity of background, cognitive style, and experience enhances innovation, team performance and team management. However, these are not directly related to the holy grail of financial gain.

This research is valuable because it supports the well–established fact that diversity creates value. The issue is whether the indicator of female or person of color is what is providing that value.  It’s more likely that ways of thinking, problem solving, or incorporating unique personal and professional experiences is the critical resource. If that is true, it suggests a possible interesting paradox for recruiting people of these social identities. As populations of women and people of color become more a part of the fabric of an inclusive organizations, those same organizations may lose the value of that uniqueness over time as they continue to recruit women and people of color.

The idea is that organizations socialize those who enter into them. People who thrive in the organization do so because they adopt the norms and ways of thinking that are dominant in the organization. Those who do not adopt those norms are more likely to exit. That pattern would persist no matter the identity of the person. As organizations recruit more women and people of color, they will begin to lose the benefit of the deep diversity that the initially recruited women and people of color brought. It reminds me of the early experience of affirmative action. When I entered my affluent prep high school, I was an inner city black kid who entered into a different world. The setting was foreign and though the adjustment was often difficult, I was better and I think I made the institution better because I brought a radically different way of being to the school. Today, the black kids who enter are smart, but also better prepared to operate in the prep school environment. They are more affluent and more prepared to attend a prep school. The metrics have not changed: there is no difference between a black kid from my generation and a black kid from the present generation. But when it comes to deep level diversity, there is a world of difference.

The value of diversity comes from the capacity of the organization to invite and extract the uniqueness from individuals of diverse identities in the service of the mission of the organization. Inclusion and diversity can’t be only about identifying a static difference—say, women—and loading up on more women in the organization. That might make a difference in the short run. But in the long run, the differences that matter most will be those that invite people who challenge the organization’s regular way of operating. And if the organization is truly ready for these mavericks, that organization will thrive.

[1] From Hunt, Vivian, Sara Prince, Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, and Lareina Yee. “Delivering through Diversity.” McKinsey & Company, 2018. p. 1.


19 JAN 2018: Center for Appreciative Practice–Wisdom and Wellbeing Speaker Series

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

Martin’s talk is entitled The Wisdom of Leveraging Difference: The Necessity of Mindfulness for Building and Inclusive Culture

Far too little attention has been paid to how mindfulness can be an asset in working amidst difference. Individuals who cultivate a contemplative practice position themselves to engage with the challenges that diversity of identity, background and thought can surface. However, overcoming diversity challenges is just the tip of the iceberg.  Mindfulness is among the most powerful tools a person can have for leveraging difference, for helping us connect with one another to get real work done well.

05 MAR 2013: Initiative for Women in Business, Rotman Leadership Experts Speaker Series, Toronto, Canada

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Martin speaks on his provocative topic, “Embrace the Weird,” at the Rotman School of Business Initiative for Women in Business speaker series, Toronto, Canada. Here, women learn how to be better leaders and better decision-makers at every stage of their careers by learning new ways to leverage what they do best. Click for more information.

The Virtue of Being Offensive: How Straight People Can Support LGBT Colleagues

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to give a talk on the importance of being offensive (or at least risking being offensive). The occasion was a celebration of Love is Love 2013 Campaign, an annual event at Darden and the University of Virginia focused on promoting inclusion of the LGBT community in the workplace and in the Darden community. My remarks were part of a daily Darden ritual, “First Coffee,” where the community gathers to take a break between classes, connect over coffee or tea, and sometimes mark important events like Love is Love.

Talking about being offensive was strange in this context. Here I was, a heterosexual man, addressing an event with community members of diverse sexual orientations and embarking on a topic that is charged. LGBT members of society are routinely confronted with offensive words and behaviors and, at first glance, my message should have been about ways to diminish those affronts.

But I also think it’s useful to look more deeply at the challenges I see in my consulting, teaching, and research when it comes to the diversity of sexual orientations and identities in our communities. Often, we are so concerned about not risking offending one another that we walk on eggshells. Our goal is to be conscientious and committed advocates for equality and justice for people of all sexual orientations and identities. But my experience is that being overly careful is one of the things that undermines that goal.

I know that I often walk on eggshells with my colleagues and friends of different sexual orientations, especially my gay and lesbian friends. Upon deeper reflection, I‘m learning about why I do. To be honest, I’m often scared and anxious. My anxieties when it comes to sexual orientation include:

  • My worry that I will say something offensive when it comes to sexual orientation—that people will label me as clueless or as a homophobe and that will make me look like bad person.
  • My worry that if I am too strong an advocate people will utter under their breath “I’ll bet he’s really gay,” which freaks me out. Despite my ongoing work in diversity, I still internalize the fear of being seen as gay which somehow equates in my mind to being less of a man. It also feels threatening because I imagine the ways my life and relationships would change if people thought I was gay.
  • I worry that sometimes if I am too strident and too sympathetic, maybe that means that deep down, I might really be gay (see bullet point 2, only bigger)!

The results of these anxieties make me frequently hold me back and keep me from doing what I believe is the right thing to say or do.

So I try three practices that help me overcome:

  • Adopt a learning attitude—I work to remain as open as possible to new information and perspectives. It can help to adopt at attitude of curiosity and to ask questions. One of my most powerful experiences in learning about sexual orientation happened when a friend who lived in Provincetown, MA invited me to visit. “P-town” is a predominantly gay community and I got to feel what it was like to be in an environment where being heterosexual was not a given.
  • Separate intent from impact—This means realizing that even though my words or actions may not be in intended to be harmful or offensive, they can nonetheless be experienced by my audience that way. Separating the two—intent and impact—is important because it helps prevent me from getting defensive when I make a mistake. And if I am not defensive, it is easier to understand why my action was hurtful and to discover other ways to express my sentiment.
  • Practice everyday courage—Just keep being aware and practicing saying when you see or feel that a comment or interaction provides an opportunity to learn. If you see something that is wrong or harmful, try to bring it up in the moment. Usually that can be tough since problematic moments often take us by surprise. But that’s OK. It’s never too late to be courageous. I have often come back a few minutes or a few days later and said “I don’t know if you remember when you said… but after thinking about it, I realized that bothered me. Can we talk about it?…” By the way, I call this “everyday courage” because it helps to remember that this doesn’t have to be a big deal. And if you miss an opportunity today, work on trying it the next time. What is most important is that you keep trying.

I’m not advocating going out of your way to be offensive or obnoxious. Rather, I’m saying that we make progress in overcoming bias—overt and subtle—when we are able to engage, not avoid. That approach has really helped me on my journey to being a better ally for LGBT colleagues.

Leveraging Difference Makes a Competitive Difference

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

The following blog was written by Robert F. Bruner, Dean of the Darden Graduate School of Business, and posted on his blog site March 5, 2012.

“Civilizations should be measured by the degree of diversity attained and the degree of unity retained.” — W.H. Auden

It’s challenging to find institutions today that harness the diversity of its participants really well. This should be of paramount interest to CEOs and leaders of all kinds because those who harness it well sooner are likely to gain advantage in their competitive space. Such is the gist of a special Town Hall session for students faculty and staff to be held tomorrow, “The End of Diversity as We Know It: How to Make Diversity Efforts Really Matter,” from 3:30-5:30 in Abbott Auditorium. And it is the focus of a new book by Darden Professor Martin Davidson, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed. I encourage readers to draw on both of these resources.

I see the relevance of this topic most vividly in two spheres: the management of global businesses and the education of the next generation of global leaders. In respect to both spheres, W.H. Auden got it right: success is a matter of embracing the diversity within institutions and doing so in a way that generates strategic strength and focus on the things that matter.

On the basis of results, the former Soviet Union would be a leading example of how not to leverage diversity. So would Zimbabwe—indeed, the potential list is long. Diversity was thought to be a uniquely American problem of dealing with differences in race and gender: “we don’t have a diversity issue here” is a statement I have heard in many countries. Yet, a little conversation will often reveal material divisions in virtually all countries. As I write this, I am in Ecuador, a small nation of about 15 million people, which displays classic issues associated with diversity along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language, and tribe—this is not to criticize Ecuador, but rather to suggest that leading a constituency that contains material difference is a universal challenge.

So, what is the leader of a diverse organization to do? Stop thinking of difference as a problem and start thinking of it as an opportunity; find ways to leverage difference as a strength.

At Darden, our purpose is to “improve society by developing principled leaders for the world of practical affairs.” Leveraging difference is a conscious element of our strategy. To my knowledge, we were the first business school to appoint a Chief Diversity Officer (he is Peter Rodriguez; his predecessors were Martin Davidson and Erika James). We organized special Dean’s advisory councils on diversity and on global affairs to assess the curriculum and climate of the school in light of best current practice. We partner with a number of organizations that help us to recruit top diverse talent—indeed, for two years, I chaired the Board of Directors of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. We host a range of social events that celebrate the diversity in our community, and learning events, such as tomorrow’s session on “The End of Diversity.” We formally survey faculty, staff, and students on the climate of inclusion in our community—and based on the survey results, we adjust as warranted. I make no claim that Darden is perfect in respect to diversity and inclusion; but I do claim that by pursuing these and other activities sincerely and vigorously, we strengthen Darden’s ability to fulfill its mission. From all the metrics I follow, I conclude that Darden’s strategy on leveraging diversity is working and that the Darden Enterprise is growing stronger as a result.

Faculty, staff, students, and the extended Darden Community are supporting our efforts to leverage difference. As a result, we are creating more compelling learning experiences for our students. We are preparing them to prosper and lead in a world that is only growing more diverse. And we are responding positively to the needs of the business profession that we serve. This is creating a legacy with long positive impact into the future.

“The End of Diversity as We Know It: How to Make Diversity Efforts Really Matter”

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

This event will feature conversation and audience involvement. Because of its novel design, the event will provide 1) an opportunity for intellectual engagement on this important topic, and 2) a venue for members of the larger Darden community and business community to collaborate on ways to further diversity and inclusion.

Martin will facilitate the discussion and includes panelists:

  • Ed Freeman, Darden Professor and academic director of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics
  • Jeanne Liedtka, Darden Professor of Business Administration and author of The Catalyst: How You Can Become an Extraordinary Growth Leader
  • Charlie Hill, former Exec Vice President of HR, Landmark Communications and former member Darden Corporate Advisory Board
  • Rhonda Smith, Darden ’88,  Founder at Breast Cancer Partner and President of Rhegal Consulting

March 6 from 3:30-5:30 in Abbott Auditorium at the Darden School, 100 Darden Blvd., Charlottesville, VA. Open to the public.  The discussion will be followed by a book signing and reception.

UVa Facilities Management Leadership Forum

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

This annual event provides Leadership Tools for Supervisors, Managers, and Directors of Facilities Management. Martin will be speaking on diversity and inclusion, and the principles from his new book, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed.  

A Conversation on Diversity

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Please join the Darden School of Business for a conversation on diversity in honor of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. This discussion will explore the challenges and opportunities for fostering diverse and inclusive communities in educational institutions, businesses and larger society. Conversationalists and audience members will address the ways in which we can build on our accomplishments as well as overcome our obstacles as we work towards creating energizing, generative, and just communities.  The point of departure for the conversation will be Darden professor Martin Davidson’s provocative new book, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed.

For more information and to register, visit

University of Virginia Leadership in Academic Matters

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Leadership in Academic Matters (LAM) is a faculty development opportunity focused on supporting, inspiring, and rewarding those who have demonstrated leadership characteristics and future potential. Sponsored by the Vice Provost for Faculty Development, LAM provides participants with concrete resources, access to expertise, and experiential learning opportunities focused on a variety of topics including teambuilding, negotiation, managing change, strategic decision making, financial management, developing successful networks, and finding life balance in a dynamic and growing career.

Martin Davidson will be speaking on Friday, January 20, from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in the South Meeting Room in Newcomb Hall on the principles of Leveraging Difference from his new book, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed.

For more information, contact