Diversity Diva

Varied voices bolster hope for progress

Updated: 2013-12-24T03:39:12Z

By MICHELLE T. JOHNSON

Special to The Star

I once was on the board of an organization whose leader said every decision of the group had to end in consensus. Only unanimous decisions would be allowed.

As the new person to the organization, I was surprised to see how the other board members had a longstanding agreement to that edict.

But as my tenure on the board grew, I rocked the boat by being the one (or one of a tiny minority) who occasionally voted against the majority on the rare times when my opinion and supporting reasoning just couldn’t jibe with the majority.

On those rare occasions, I had to point out that if the motion still passed, it passed, and that I supported the final decision. But no, this leader found official dissent a failure of leadership.

Research on this issue, however, has found that dissent is good and that collaboration that doesn’t allow for contrasting opinions provides less innovative solutions to workplace problems.

Clayton Christensen, of Harvard Business School, has written several books on this issue including one called “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

Christensen’s philosophy, in a nutshell, is that most companies focus so much on sustaining their processes and procedures, they sometimes fall behind the companies that leap forward because they are willing to have more disruptive additions to their way of approaching business.

That’s right. Disruptive.

His coining of the term “disruptive innovation” inspired Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Although this business philosophy applies more to technology and exploring new business markets, it also goes to the heart of why workplace diversity and inclusion are critical parts of an organization’s growth and success.

Disruptive doesn’t mean combative. Just as diversity shouldn’t mean abnormal.

Organizations have to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Leaders have to be willing to let the workplace have a variety of thinkers, viewpoints and backgrounds contributing to how the job gets done.

Diversity isn’t just about visible differences such as race and gender, though they are part of the equation.

Saying that you want more voices at the table doesn’t mean that as a leader you encourage people to inappropriately step out of their roles to weigh in with unfounded opinions.

It means that as a leader you fill roles with people from a variety of backgrounds, and then you put those differing roles on teams together.

Clashing, disagreeing and jumping completely out of the box doesn’t have to lead to chaos, discontent and lasting failure.

Diversity — of people and processes — can be the start of something new and the re-creation of something better.

Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/diversitydiva. Follow her at Twitter.com/divaofdiversity.

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