Harish Bhayani, founder and Senior Partner at PRM Diversity Consultants writes about the complexity of the diversity challenge and how to manage it.
Despite decades of effort and huge expenditure by organisations and governments, successfully managing diversity in organisations remains difficult.
This is because it is of course, all more complicated than was envisaged. In reality few organisations have even a good understanding of the complications, let alone the solution. There are many facets to consider, such as:
- Identity diversity
- Cognitive diversity
- Behavioural diversity
- Unconscious bias
- Affective diversity
- Employee diversity
- Customer diversity
- Consumer diversity
- Supplier diversity
- Alignment with core values
- Global versus local needs
- Change (leadership, organisational priorities, laws)
- Operations diversity (cultures, environments, priorities)
- Political correctness
- Global diversity (cultures, nationalities, laws, geopolitics)
- Jurisdiction diversity
- Definition diversity ….. Diversity, equality, inclusion
- Social networks in organisations
Each of these facets may be viewed as fault-lines for organisations which must be navigated and managed, in order to maximise organisational performance and stakeholder outcomes.
One challenge is that many of these facets are interdependent. They need to be managed accordingly.
Organisations are beginning to recognise these issues and address them.
For example, organisations are broadening the reach of diversity beyond employee diversity, to also address:
- supplier diversity
- customer diversity
- consumer diversity
These areas are mutually reinforcing; for example they increase awareness across the organisation of the value of diversity.
Increasing attention is being given to more types of diversity e.g. cognitive diversity
Diversity has an increasingly higher profile in organisations, as they increasingly recognise the multiple facets and its broader scope. For example, many more senior diversity roles exist in organisations worldwide now compared to just ten years ago.
Organisations are increasingly recognising the critical importance of inclusion in the management of diversity. Increased understanding and awareness of unconscious bias is re-energising organisations, by helping them to understand why previous diversity efforts may not have been totally successful and new ways forward.
In such ways organisations are increasingly integrating diversity, and this trend will have to continue if they are to successfully manage diversity.
The rest of this paper describes another example of what I have called integration – it is a combination of some of the lesser understood facets to develop a multi-layered, integrated approach. A relatively new and very important facet, that of Social Networks, and the related tool, Social Network Analysis (SNA), forms the basis of the approach.
What SNA is and why it is increasingly important?
Social Network Analysis can be regarded as the analysis of relationships between members of a network. It is increasingly important because organisational structures have been changing and continue to change:
The past – organisations were much more
- hierarchical (more dependent on command and control)
Now – organisations are increasingly
- flatter (more dependent on relationships)
- diverse (in terms of membership and means of communications)
As a result, it is increasingly important for organisations to understand actual relationships between members and how these affect performance. (This changing scenario also increases the importance of inclusion in efforts to address diversity.)
An example :
The organisation chart gives us theoretical information such as reporting lines, departments, functions and seniority. But how do the members interact in practice?
So, while Y appears to have a relatively lowly and isolated role according to the organisation chart, this member effectively controls all email flows through the organisation. This may lead to information blockage for example through overwork or deliberate filtering. On the other hand, despite A’s position at the top of the organisation, this member turns out to be relatively isolated, at least on this measure.
As in the above example, in practice there is often a very different set of relationships between members than the organisation chart implies. In essence, organisations function according to their social networks, not their organisation charts.
- Analysis could be performed for many different types of relationship e.g. socialising outside work, collaboration, interactions on key projects, who people have lunch with, etc. This is an enormously powerful aspect of SNA. It can be viewed as the equivalent of an MRI scan of an organisation, whereas an organisation chart is more like a photograph.
Applying SNA as part of an integrated approach to diversity
While SNA is a powerful approach for assessing organisational functioning in its own right, it can also be used to great effect to help manage diversity.
Deploy Social Network Analysis to understand the quality of working relationships between members of a network e.g. a department in an organisation.
- To identify relationships where the quality or quantity of relationships is High or Low. Typically, a 360 degree type assessment is made of members in the network. This may probe members’ perceptions of issues such as leadership, respect, inclusion, friendship. The issues are selected according to the diversity issues being addressed. While of value in its own right, this data can be compared with data from other layers to more fully and accurately understand diversity challenges and develop solutions.
Compare outcomes with aspects of people diversity e.g. the demographics of members (gender, social class, education, team, race, disability, age)
- Research tells us that similarity between supervisor and supervisee tends to improve the quality of relationship, and in turn, performance. Dis-similarity and low quality relationships are more likely to correlate.
Compare with other available quantitative and qualitative data (salary bands and awards, promotions/demotions, appraisal outcomes, hiring’s, firings, outcomes of attitude surveys, outcomes of exit interviews,…)
- Consider underlying data as well as headline data. For example, does a net influx of female recruitment into the organisation hide a combination of high recruitment + high exits?
Compare with outcomes of tests for unconscious bias and provide support for those who test positive for significant unconscious bias.
Identify key issues – where and how does data from all of the above correlate ?
Conduct interviews / focus groups to probe for root causes of these key issues
- This is a critical activity. While the activities above will reveal critical issues, they cannot reveal their root causes.
Develop action plans to address root causes.
- In practice, these plans are very likely to require as much focus on inclusion as on diversity.
Using more integrated approaches as these is a critical success factor for managing diversity in organisations.
Founder, PRM Diversity Consultants
Harish Bhayani is founder and Senior Partner of PRM Diversity Consultants (www.prmdiversityconsultants.co.uk). He has specialised as a diversity consultant, trainer and researcher since 2001. His expertise is grounded in some 20 years prior experience working in large corporations such as Exxon Mobil and Deloitte. During the last decade Harish has developed leading edge initiatives in areas such as Unconscious bias, Diversity Benchmarking, Organisational Network Analysis and Supplier Diversity. He is a trustee at homelessness charity Crisis (www.crisis.org.uk), a member of the Diversity Working Group at the CIPR (www.cipr.co.uk) and a volunteer business advisor at the charity Young Enterprise (www.young-enterprise.org.uk).