Understanding Definitions and Usage in Society
As a stand-alone term as used in sustainability and in reference to organizations, what I will refer to as the more formally defined "capital-D" Diversity tends to activate entire constellations of ideas for people, many of which are arranged around concepts of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and others. The University of California, Berkeley offers forth a definition of Diversity which captures the essence of most definitions of Diversity you will see across a range of organizations, from universities to NGOs to corporations:
Diversity refers to human qualities that are different from our own and those of groups to which we belong; but that are manifested in other individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity include but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experience, and job classification.
Now, consider the broader, strict definition of "little-d" diversity as found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and as we could apply to virtually any topic, from the diversity of species in a wetland to a diversity of thought:
the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.
We could argue that in 2015, the popular use is far more weighed toward Diversity as referred to in the Berkeley definition. Consider the Google Ngram results from more than 20 million scanned books spanning more than 200 years as to the relative use of the forms of "diversity" in English-language books published in any country from 1850-2008. I have added the terms "sustainability," "African-American," "disability," and "equality" to provide some insight into the use of associated terms:
And for a measure of comparison across use in other languages, the relative use of "diversity" in books published in other languages:
We will revisit the importance of the popular use of the term, how it relates to organizational framing, and how it can relate to our sustainability efforts, in a moment.
Exploring How People Understand and Frame Diversity
Take a moment to consider the concepts of "diversity" and "risk" within an organization. If you happen to have a piece of paper around, just take thirty seconds to jot down a few ideas or concepts that you may associate with these two words. You don't need to do some profound meditative thinking, just whatever associations come to mind.
To bring a few more perspectives into the discussion, on a Saturday afternoon, I posed the following question using an online survey tool to 123 American adults representing a range of socioeconomic factors:
Before we examine the results, let's sidebar for a moment and discuss two concepts at play: our discussion on diversity in the organization and the structure of the question I posed to those 123 respondents. The question posed to those respondents may seem a touch vague, but this is entirely by design given the intent of what we wanted to understand:
If you owned a business...
To set the scene that the respondent is responsible for the organization, is not constrained by the opinions or actions of others in the organization, and that they have a direct interest in the outcome.
...what would you consider...
A linking phrase to reinforce that this is solely their opinion/decision. If you use the impersonal "one" instead of "you," it functions to skew the question more toward how someone perceives the opinions of others, and not themselves (which is useful sometimes, but not our intent here).
...the #1 risk...
Add specificity and immediacy beyond asking for "a risk." We frame as "risk" to understand the perceived downside or negative aspects of the concept at hand. A more open phraseology would have been "a result" or "an implication."
...of NOT having diversity...
Emphasis on "NOT" for clarity, and we purposely did not add a parenthetical example or otherwise frame our definition of "diversity," as our intent is to understand an open range of perceptions.
If we wanted to more tightly frame the question, we could have segmented each (i.e ., one question on "racial diversity," one on "gender diversity," etc.) or, we could have used a brief parenthetical example ("i.e., race, creed, religious orientation, gender, etc.").
...in your organization?
Reinforcing ownership of the organization in question, and reinforcing that we want to understand diversity in the organization, and not generally. If we would have ended the question just after the word "diversity," we would have potentially left the question open to business owners' associations with diversity in society, and not specifically in an organization.
We will be discussing the selection of research tools and how to effectively structure beta research in later lessons, but I wanted to take a moment to illustrate why this structure was appropriate for what we wanted to learn in this specific case. In ANY consumer research, the structure of a single question can function to not only skew the results of that question, but can in fact, skew the results of the entirety of a participant's responses.
The online research is by no means meant to be a scientific poll, but instead to act as a very quick and inexpensive way to understand sentiment, space, and short verbatim responses on a given topic. Of course, as the topic becomes more specific and technical, the participant criteria becomes more finite and selection becomes more rigorous... but for open topics where we desire a volume of free associations and quick inputs, this structure can be invaluable. We will be covering research design in far greater detail as we discuss Beta testing in later lessons.
Below are the results, represented as a cognitive map. Click/drag will move you along the map, and Ctrl+mouse wheel while you are over the map will allow you to zoom in/out.
As we will also explore in later lessons, we are looking for our innovation concepts to have some level of "background resonance" from which we can build. In this case, note the high prevalence of open "little-d" diversity themes and unprompted links to organizational prosperity and innovation, while it would appear that the blue path may deal more with the negative frames for not having diversity as 'the risks of discrimination.'
When we are "pencil sketching," we can begin to see a theme that could merit further research and which can serve as the very early nucleus of a message/strategy: There are already some very rich associations and links made between diversity and innovation, even when we are asking a very open, non-directed question. If we were seeking to understand what pathways and messages on diversity we wanted to include in our sustainability mission, for example, our next step would be to delve into all of those positive associations in far more depth using other research methodologies.
How could this be of strategic interest? If we were a media company, we might want to explore how diversity can reinforce creativity, a core facet of our operation. We could use this in focusing our efforts in recruiting new talent, in reinforcing our strategic position on diversity, or in setting diversity aspects and indicators. Perhaps if we wanted to create a unique cause for our agency to support, it could be to support the importance of diversity for creativity to middle schoolers.
Sometimes, in research, like in land exploration, the goal is to understand the entire landscape so that we may even begin to understand what could be of interest. To do so, sometimes one needs to take the highest vantage point possible to provide the widest view.
Organizational Frames for Diversity
Just as we seek to understand the thoughts and frames individuals have for Diversity, we can also consider the embedded frames which influence how an organization views Diversity... and ultimately, the types of actions they may choose to take, if any. At times, Diversity is used in a superficial way within organizations and sustainability programs without consideration of the deeper, long-term and more strategic implications of diversity. As we delve more deeply into our research and analysis this semester, we will begin to understand how organizations frame this, and other aspects of sustainability, and how it can affect innovation.
Consider three potential frames or perspectives on Diversity within the organization:
|Diversity as non-discrimination||Organizations functioning under this frame for diversity typically rely on what is legally required of them in employment practices, namely aspects of Equal Employment Opportunity law, including Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These laws were created to ensure that people are not being discriminated against in their jobs or in potential employment opportunities, but do not necessarily set criteria for diversity in the workplace.||Tend to be driven by the law and what is legally required.||The use of EOE statement as the core of a "diversity program."|
|Diversity as a metric||
Organizations functioning under this frame may take a more proactive approach to diversity in the workplace, but the impetus for doing so is framed more around metrics and empirical goals. Many times, this may simply be an outcome of a metric-driven organization applying their organizational culture to a goal.
Ultimately, without metrics and specific goals, few organizations will be able to attain progress in any pursuit, but the frame in these types of organizations is not that the diversity metrics are the means to an end... the metrics may, in fact, be the end goal.
|Tend toward statistics and percentages by group; may set specific goals for specific groups by percentage of employees or in absolute numbers.||"As of April 2013, 2.46% of employees at Komatsu were persons with disabilities. Recognizing the need to enhance its hiring rate of persons with disabilities, in April 2008 Komatsu established the Business Creation Center within the Human Resources Department. The Center is designed exclusively for increasing the hiring of persons with mental disabilities." (Komatsu, 2014)|
|Diversity as a core strength||Organizations functioning under this frame do not see diversity as a "number" or a "checkbox," they see it as an essential, core component of being a great company. But the difference here is a deep appreciation for the strategic importance of having diverse backgrounds, experiences, viewpoints, and circumstances.||Proactive, aggressive pursuit of candidates across the entire spectrum of people; consciously seeking out new ways to recruit; specifically engaging groups and communities about employment opportunities; truly embraces the broad view of diversity throughout the organization.||“At Lockheed Martin, we’re at our best when we bring talented people with diverse capabilities and experiences together to take on our customers’ toughest challenges. Embracing diversity sparks creativity, generates new ideas, and raises smart, insightful questions. That’s when innovation really takes flight.” Marillyn Hewson, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin|
Diversity As an Essential Basis of Innovation
Throughout the semester, we will explore methodologies and processes to gain insight, and ultimately, to find opportunities from which we can innovate and create. We will see that having diversity of thought and perspective on a team is a core need for innovation, and that innovation thrives when built from diversity. But, consider that this is "diversity," not "Diversity." For an organization to truly operate that third frame above, "Diversity as core strength," it must seek and embrace diversity wherever it can: diversity of experience, diversity of color, diversity of perspective, diversity of belief, diversity of sexual orientation, diversity of education, diversity of approach. (This is also a driver as to why this course is structured around cases and discussion: so that we may all benefit from the discourse and diverse viewpoints afforded by our unique experiences and personalities.)
The following is from Stephanie C. Hill, now a President at Lockheed Martin, recounting her experiences as a integrated-product team leader... and a young African-American woman:
Perhaps the most important outcome of my experience as team leader was that it helped me evolve my understanding of diversity into a broader concept of inclusion. Diversity of age, gender, skin color, ethnicity, and more—the attributes of a diverse workplace that are the first to come to mind—is often visible and easy to identify and requires focus to engage and develop. The presence of diversity that you can see is often an indicator of an inclusive environment that embraces diversity of thought. A team dynamic that opens the door to inclusion will elicit ideas that spring from varied professional, educational and social experiences.
It's a truism that the best teams are greater than the sum of their parts. I believe that is only true when those parts are diverse. When everyone looks the same, acts the same and thinks the same, is it any wonder that they often fail to embrace—or even produce—innovative and unconventional ideas?
Underscoring Ms. Hill's experience is an interesting body of research by Van der Vegt and Janssen (2003) titled, "Joint Impact of Interdependence and Group Diversity on Innovation" that works to underscore that it is diversity of thought, experience, and behavior–not simply demographic Diversity–which functions to help drive innovative thinking in groups. Emphasis is mine:
Third, our results showed cognitive and demographic group diversity to be significantly interrelated. This provides some initial empirical support for a “trait-approach” to group diversity in which objective demographic differences are presumed to affect interaction and performance only in so far as such diversity is directly linked to differences in such underlying attributes as knowledge, skills, values, and beliefs (McGrath et al., 1995). Nevertheless,the modest relationship between demographic and cognitive group diversity found in this research suggests that we must be careful in equating both types of group diversity. Apparently, team members’ perceptions of cognitive diversity are influenced by other factors as well. More research that examines the exact relationships between demographic and cognitive group diversity as well as the antecedents and consequences of cognitive group diversity is clearly needed. Nevertheless, although cognitive and demographic group diversity were only modestly related, they were found to have similar moderating effects on the relationship between interdependence and innovative behavior. This does suggest that it is indeed the diversity in knowledge, values, and skills, resulting from demographic differences, that potentially promotes individual innovative behavior in work teams.
An Example of Diversity Driving Innovation
OXO, the now ubiquitous housewares and utensils company, was founded by the retired Sam Farber while he watched his arthritic wife in pain as she used a metal-handled peeler. Built on the foundation of Sam's diverse experiences and age, OXO would begin with a peeler design, turn a profit in year one, and grow at a compound annual growth rate of 30%+ every year from 1991 to 2004. Sam Farber would unveil the newly minted OXO Peeler at the the 1990 Gourmet Products Show, and would go on to sell for three times the price of the incumbent metal handled peelers found in most kitchens.
Please watch the following 5:07 video made by the design house that worked with Sam Farber, addressing the importance of real people–and "the extremes"–in design.
Transcript of Objectified: Smart Design OXO Good Grips Story
DAN FORMOSA: We work as consultants, which means we work with a lot of different companies in a lot of different fields. But really, our common interest is in understanding people and what their needs are. So if you start to think, well, really, what these guys do as consultants is focus on people, then it's easy to think about what's needed design-wise in the kitchen, or in the hospital, or in the car.
We have clients come to us and say, here's our average customer. For instance, female, she's 34 years old, she has 2.3 kids. And we listen politely and say, well, that's great. But we don't care about that person. What we really need to do to design is look at the extremes, the weakest, or person with arthritis, or the athlete, or the strongest, or the fastest person, because if we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself.
It's actually things I haven't seen in 1,000 years.
DAVEN STOWELL: Try to use less material. Here's one that's hollow inside. A good friend of mine, Sam Farber, he was vacationing with his wife Betsey. I got a phone call one night. He was so excited. He said he couldn't sleep.And what he was excited about is he had been cooking dinner with Betsy. And she was making an apple tart. And she was complaining about the peeler, that it was hurting her hands. And she had arthritis.
And she just couldn't hang on to it. And it hit Sam at that moment that here's a product that nobody's really thought about.
DAN FORMOSA: And my thought, was, well, if we can make it work for people with arthritis, it can be good for everybody.
DAVEN STOWELL: And we knew that it had to be a bigger handle. Kids have big crayons because they're easier to hold on to. It's the same thing for somebody that might not have full mobility with their hand. They need something a little bit larger that's a little easier to grip with a little bit less force. So we did a lot of studies around the shape of the handle, the size of it to come up with that size that would be perfect for everybody.
DAN FORMOSA: But eventually, we found a rubberized bicycle grip. And we basically did this. So it really goes through many, many more iterations than you would think to do a handle that's relatively simple in the end.
AGNETE ENGA: So I think one thing with the hand pruners, you have this constant friction happening, when you're closing it.
DAVEN STOWELL: But if you hold onto it-- because I feel like here is the spot that really hurts. This is the biggest pressure point for me.
AGNETE ENGA: This is here in this area on all four fingers. You have friction. So when we start out doing a project, looking at these different tools to understand really how we can design a better experience for someone erginomically-- so really, what we did here was just to map it out when we did the exercise with the glove and understanding where the pressure points are.
And when we go into this process of developing these models, some of the ideas-- one thing we realized with this model if you compare with other pictures, a lot of them just have a straight handle. So you can't, for example-- you don't have any control over the weights. If you're cutting far down, it means that you have to squeeze harder to hold the tool in place. Otherwise, it's going to slide out of their hands.
So with really sculpting this handle area, it locks your hand around this form. So you have to squeeze less. So you have a really secure grip.
JONATHAN CEDAR: We're really at the final stages of our design here where we put them into a place where we can control them much more closely to get them ready for manufacture. And that is known as CAD or Computer Aided Design. It's very important that we constantly are verifying our CAD with physical models.
Once you get into that, we use a set of technologies that are called rapid prototyping. So we can really finally control the ergonomics of these parts. So these are the two halves that come out of the machine. And you can glue them together to make an entire handle, and attached them to prototypes such as this or they can really go out, and feel the comfort, and work with it, and make sure that our CAD model really represents our design intention.
DAN FORMOSA: The way we think of design is let's put great design into everyday things, and understand how to make these gadgets perform better.
DAVEN STOWELL: And that's what we're really always looking for whenever we design, are ways we can improve the way people do things or improve their daily life without them really even knowing it or thinking about it.