We often see the terms diversity and inclusion (D&I) stuck together like peanut butter and jelly (PB&J) — but diversity and inclusion are actually more like fries and salt. Unseasoned fries are OK if you just want to stop your stomach from growling, but sprinkle a little salt on them, and boom! The result is true potato goodness and happy taste buds.
When we think of diversity as just numbers and percentages — binary do’s and don’ts — we might satisfy a grumble, but we miss out on the goodness. When you hear someone discussing the value of diversity, it’s a safe bet that they’re talking about the value of inclusion.
Thinking of diversity in terms of race, ethnicity and gender leaves out the many other ways teams can be diverse. In the law enforcement context, think about your own team’s diverse experiences. Some may have come from the military or another police agency, while others may have made a complete career change. Those officers who became recruits after high school bring a different perspective from those who may have spent a decade in a corporate setting before joining the ranks.
Diversity is the presence of variety, but it’s inclusion that creates opportunity from those diverse perspectives. In order to benefit from diversity, agencies must intentionally prioritize inclusion. It’s a simple concept, but there are three obstacles that make it hard to deliver.
1. Diversity is a bad word
Understandably so! For the most part, diversity training programs don’t work. Since the 1950s, significant time, effort and money have been spent on diversity training that generally ignores the necessity of inclusion. This is not only ineffective, but it can even backfire.1. Plaut, V. C., Garnett, F. G., Buffardi, L. E., & Sanchez-Burks, J. (2011). “What about me?” Perceptions of exclusion and whites’ reactions to multiculturalism. Journal of Personality and … Continue reading With that kind of track record, it’s not surprising that just hearing the word “diversity” can make some people shut down.
2. Homogeneous teams feel right
Diverse teams don’t. This is because our brains recognize and are comfortable with similarity, so anything dissimilar feels strange. Just as the word diversity can cause some people to ignore whatever comes next, knowing that someone is different can make people unintentionally ignore what they may have to offer. It can even trigger a threat response in our bodies that makes us feel the need to defend ourselves or our position — useful at times, uncomfortable nonetheless.
3. This is snowflake stuff
You’ve been around long enough, and you’ve probably seen this trend before. It looks like a knee-jerk reaction to current events and may pass when the pendulum swings. And even though research tells us that diverse teams are smarter, you may have worked with diverse teams that you wouldn’t describe that way. Previous experience can make us resistant to change.
So now we know the obstacles. How do we overcome them?
Fix your language
Don’t make it harder than it needs to be by using words with negative connotations. Instead of diversity, choose inclusion. That’s ultimately the goal anyway, so use the right word and ensure you and your team understand the meaning. Think of diversity and inclusion as a dinner table. Diversity means the table is filled with different kinds of people — but if it’s the same voices that are always heard, the diversity doesn’t matter. Inclusion means everyone at the table has a voice. They are all able (and encouraged)
to use it, and what they say is taken seriously.
Embrace the friction
Without friction, it seems like life would be slick and smooth — but actually, we wouldn’t be able to hold a firearm or drive a patrol car; our glasses would fall down, as would our pants. Friction is a requirement for important things to take hold, so when something doesn’t feel comfortable, know that friction is a sign it’s working. Embrace any discomfort as a symptom of the pathway to positive results. Here’s why:
When someone shares your perspective, it’s easy — they just get it. When you’re talking with someone who doesn’t get you, it’s a drag having to slow down and think through how to make yourself understood. That drag is actually a push, and it’s how inclusive groups get smarter, challenging each member to really think about communicating things that previously would just go without saying. So have those awkward talks at the dinner table and make them fun, but respectful.
Change your polarity
According to the science of intergroup bias,Hewstone, M., Rubin, M., & Willis, H. (2002). Intergroup bias. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 575–604. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135109. humans survive because they naturally divide people into in-groups and out-groups (us and them). These survival skills are useful at times, but prevent us from welcoming and engaging when we perceive threats to our comfortable status quo. Fortunately, we can train our brains to overcome these natural inclinations by expanding us to intentionally include colleagues who can contribute different
As you invite new people to the table, rather than expecting them to comply with the old ways, value their offerings as unique and beneficial. Include a variety of people who bring a variety of experiences in pursuit of shared goals. lt expands the idea of “us” and adds necessary seasoning to the diversity potato.
In short — diversity is OK, but it needs inclusion to really make a difference. Use the salt and enjoy the taste of success!
Kathy Cook is a senior client advisor at the NeuroLeadership Institute. She brings over 25 years of experience leading and implementing large-scale organizational and learning projects across private, nonprofit and public sector clients in the federal government, military and law enforcement organizations such as the United States Navy, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, USDA and Department of Treasury.
Sherilyn George-Clinton is a science writer at the NeuroLeadership Institute who learned to appreciate the value of salt — and inclusion — in the course of living.
Dr. Joy VerPlanck works with the NeuroLeadership Institute and MILO, combining the science of human interaction with the immersive power of educational technology to continuously improve law enforcement training.
As seen in the June 2021 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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|1||1. Plaut, V. C., Garnett, F. G., Buffardi, L. E., & Sanchez-Burks, J. (2011). “What about me?” Perceptions of exclusion and whites’ reactions to multiculturalism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 337–353. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022832.|
|2||Hewstone, M., Rubin, M., & Willis, H. (2002). Intergroup bias. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 575–604. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135109.|