Todd Kashdan, a renowned expert in organizational psychology, shares practical strategies to maximize the impact of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts within an organization. Drawing from his expertise, Kashdan offers valuable insights on creating a culture of inclusion, fostering psychological safety, and promoting authentic engagement to harness the true potential of DEI initiatives. Discover actionable tips to drive meaningful change and create a workplace where diversity thrives and everyone can contribute their best.
Professor at George Mason University and author of five books, including The Art of Insubordination.
Felicia Shakiba0:04 Hello, everyone. I'm Felicia Shakiba. And you're listening to the CPO PLAYBOOK podcast. Join me and my guests as we feature insightful conversations with HR leaders, people scientists and executives from diverse industries and functions, offering valuable perspectives on the future of work. Discover a unique outlook on navigating the complexities of the modern day working world. Exploring innovative strategies in talent management and corporate culture from the chief people officers perspective, tune in to stay ahead of the game when it comes to all things people related.
The release of a recent survey by WebMD Health Services on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging presents a disheartening revelation 62% of respondents find DEI&B programs ineffective. However, data from LinkedIn sheds light on the significant advantages that diverse organizations enjoy. Companies with diverse teams experience a remarkable 2.5 times higher cash flow per employee. Inclusive teams exhibit over 35% greater productivity and diverse teams make sound decisions 87% of the time. This lack of efficacy and DEI&B efforts can be attributed to three primary factors. First, the absence of unwavering commitment from top leadership. Second, many organizations adopt superficial approaches implementing surface level diversity programs that fail to address underlying systemic issues. Lastly, resistance to change is pervasive as dei and be initiatives challenge established norms and power structures. By acknowledging and addressing these factors. Organizations can work towards creating more inclusive and equitable environments that harness the benefits of diversity.
Joining us today is Todd Kashdan. Todd is among the world's top experts in the psychology of well being, psychological strengths, mental agility, and social relationships. His research has been featured in hundreds of media outlets, including multiple articles in Harvard Business Review, the New York Times, Fast Company, Forbes and more. His new book, The Art of Insubordination, is for anyone who wants to see more justice, creativity, and innovation in the world. Todd, thanks for being here.
Todd Kashdan 2:43 Yeah, thanks for inviting me.
Felicia Shakiba 2:48 For those listeners who aren't familiar with the definitions of DEI&B, can you share the disparity among them and how they're measured?
Todd Kashdan3:00 Sure. So diversity typically describes individual differences in a group. So most of the focus recently in America and our neighboring countries has been on demographics, particularly race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, little bit of discussion about disability, not too much, but really, it spreads out to temperament, personality, historical background, negative life events, adversity. And then you get to equity which is the degree to which you're trying to equalize the playing field across these diverse characters and diverse positions and diverse backgrounds and experience people have. And then finally, is inclusion which you can think of belonging as a synonym, where the degree to which your group or organization is providing a structure where people can be themselves, be open, and communicate about things that they care about, and not being penalized, especially not being penalized disproportionately.
Felicia Shakiba 4:03 When we think about those definitions, and how we measure whether an organization is successful in each one of those, what are some of the ways that we can measure diversity or equity/ inclusion /belonging, or as you said, inclusion is a synonym of belonging. So, however, you might think through it.
Todd Kashdan4:24 That question actually splits into two one is what are people doing and what are the ways people can be doing it, and what are the optimal ways of doing it? So in terms of the way people are doing it, thinking about organizations is really minimal. You really have questions about on a superficial level, the degree to which people feel comfortable, safe expressing their views, and the degree to which they feel as if them and whatever group that they represent, feel a sense of inclusion or belonging in this organization. The challenges of that approach even if they use that is, what is the baseline benchmark that people are comparing it to. So you have to pull back the entire DEI enterprise in the beginning and start to ask yourself as an organization, what are the existing problems that we have, as opposed to searching for a problem to solve? And what is the evidence for and against those problems that exists? Start there. And then you can also have the conversation aspirationally. If we could design the ideal group and organization from the beginning, what would we want it to look like? And if you don't have those broad conversations first, what you have is you start implementing an entire system of strategies and techniques and philosophies into organization, and you're not even clear is, what's the reason that we're doing this in the first place?
Felicia Shakiba 5:53 I think that makes a lot of sense. And a lot of that guidance is coming from leadership and obviously, their peers. But when we think about commitment from leadership, why is that a critical need? How might the lack of leadership support create challenges for organizations, or prevent meaningful change?
Todd Kashdan 6:17 Well, just think of any group meeting in your organization. And when you have a conversation at a group setting, you're gonna have certain people, when they communicate, or they open their mouths, people are more likely to listen, and more likely to weight those opinions with more heftiness and importance than other people. So we might consider those people leaders. And we may consider those people socially attractive members of the group, that people are willing to alter their behavior and their views to win their affection. And so, Susan Cain talks about the center book quiet, where one of the many problems of leadership is those people that are the loudest, most assertive, more likely to grab the microphone and eat up the airtime in a room are not necessarily the most intelligent, creative, thoughtful people in the room, when we think about designing a group, we have to be considering are, who are the people that are the most influential and persuasive when they share their ideas, they set the behavior and the tone of how other people act, the norms that are in that group. If you don't have the buy in from leadership, then what you have is you can design a wonderful program, and still - all of us act as if we're still a middle school. So we're still seeking popularity and likeability. And we want to win the affection of those people that have power and those people that are socially attractive and intelligent. So you want those people to have buy in first. And you also, which we can get to later is be very cautious, because those people can sway give the appearances that the organization is moving in the right direction, when it's really about those people building a disproportionate amount of power in the group, and the group hasn't really changed in terms of what's the - the roots that are underneath what people actually believe, how they actually behave when nobody's looking.
Felicia Shakiba 8:14 So I want to unpack that a little bit, because you said so much rich content there. When you are talking about designing a team or creating a team, what's that first step look like? That's not just talent acquisition and bringing people inside the organizations, but you're also talking about creating teams with the current members of the organization, and what are we supposed to be thinking about when we create those teams?
Todd Kashdan 8:37 So here's something based on the organizational science that we know - is that you want leaders to speak minimally, and definitely not putting their thumbs on the scale for any decision making until the very end of the process. So you can get all the diverse voices in the room. If we were to take organizations as a whole, and the entire country, could be the US could be anywhere.
We are pretty bad, generally recruiting diverse people, but we are horrendous when it comes to extracting the unique perspectives and ideas of diverse people.
One of the reasons that we get in the way of extracting the unique ideas and perspectives of the people in the room is because if you haven't changed, the social dynamics were the same popular, attractive, people that are comfortable expressing their voice because they get so much approval - if they are given an excess amount of airtime, you're not going to have room for the diverse voices. So strategy number one, before you implement anything, is can you alter the number and the quality of the information that's being spread and shared across the room and one way of doing that is making sure that you decrease the amount of time that people that eat up the airtime usually in the room speak and incent advise people who do not talk usually and don't share their ideas that even if their ideas are half baked or confusing, or they're unsure about what you're going to bring into the room, because whatever you don't hear it influences the group. But there's nothing you could do about it because you're not aware of it.
Felicia Shakiba 10:16 So how do you get those voices who may not have as much influence in the organization, or maybe not yet, how do you get those voices to speak up, especially with leaders, they do show favoritism? Or, we all know that leaders maybe listen to one or two people in the room? How do we speak up and disagree if we need to, without fearing repercussions?
Todd Kashdan 10:45 One of the best strategies to get this into play is first is collect ideas and opinions ahead of time, such that someone will basically collate all the pings of views of people, divorce it from who made those opinions and views, and only then are they shared with the group. But they're basically they're anonymous, people aren't aware of who said what that happens. And with this perspective, you separate people's competence and their their popularity, their likability, and their trustworthiness, and their newcomer status. And whether they're part of the in group or the out group, you remove all of that out of the equation, collect all the ideas shared with the room, and then the group can decide which one of those views have the most potential that we want to build off and talk about, and only later, if ever, do we reveal who is the progenitor of those ideas? So the beauty of that approach is, you're incentivizing the focus on critical thinking, independence and autonomy. And you're putting less of incentivization on individual stars, and trying to win social approval, as opposed to making the best decisions that having the best decision making process.
Felicia Shakiba12:03 And I want to maybe reel it back to what we were originally chatting about, which was leadership commitment. What does commitment from the executive team actually look like?
Todd Kashdan 12:16 Well, you alluded to it a little bit where we have to begin with understanding our biases. So we do not treat everyone equally, when you think about your favorite contacts on your smartphone, and you're going to have a Tuesday night to go out, you don't just randomly pick from that list. In your head because of your mood, at that moment, you have a mental list in terms of who you'd prefer, and then two, three, four, and five, maybe there's some ties there. When you're in an organization, it's no different. And I think it's disingenuous to say that we don't have any hierarchies, social hierarchies, and we're treating everyone equally. That could never happen. What's important is that the leader be aware that they have biases, they have preferences, they have differential qualities of relationships, some that are higher in intimacy, some that are higher in commitment, some that are higher in terms of trustworthiness, and those variables are going to influence who gets your ear who gets your time and attention. Being aware of those first, and then trying to make a public vow that you're going to try to reduce those biases by sitting on the sidelines, letting those ideas come to the forefront, and irrespective of where they come from, is a good starting point for having these conversations. But as soon as you make an error, and you end up putting your thumb on the scale, and someone that you have a closer friendship with that you give them a little bit extra energy time and attention in terms of what their views are. And it's not about competence. In those situations, everyone else learns that the way to get your ideas to be pushed forward is not based on merit or quality. But on your relationship with the leader, you have now altered the DNA of the organization, where people are going to tell you what you want to hear to win favor from you, as opposed to having the best organization possible in terms of creativity, innovation and performance.
Felicia Shakiba 14:14 And I think that was a beautiful segue into my next question, which was, How can an organization's leadership team reap the benefits of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging? What are the strategies that give the greatest outcomes? And I know we talked a little bit about team dynamics and facilitating a team communication, where else can we go with that? Or where are the strategies? Where do we double down?
Todd Kashdan 14:40 One strategy that we know from from the science is called amplification of voice. And that's the idea that as opposed to the status quo, which is as you gain power, and as you work up the ranks of the social hierarchy and organization, you get a larger platform.
As opposed to being self focused, you make it other focused, or as you get a platform, your task that you are given is can you amplify the voice of someone else who does not have that status and does not have the platform that you have in terms of communicating clearly to the larger group. It could be because they're diverse and don't feel comfortable in the group, it could be because they are shy, or timid in temperament. It could be that they're just learning how to fit in, in this group. And so they're using - very strategically sitting back and figured out what is the best way to navigate the social world. Whatever it is, is that you share an idea from someone that is a diverse member, that doesn't tend to put their ideas at the forefront, the premium of the group. You mentioned those ideas, you give that person credit, there's even science shown,, if you physically turn in the direction of that person, it gives that person attribution for that idea. And the beauty of this is it brings diverse voices in the room through the power players. And it's not even selfish. It's selfless because those people that amplify the voices of others, they are given social credit for being a generous kind contributor to the group. So there's only dividends, no negatives that come from this strategy.
Felicia Shakiba 16:19 What if it's an unpopular idea that comes up? Maybe perhaps people don't agree with at all do you? Do we still amplify that idea or that voice? How do we carry on thin that way?
Todd Kashdan 16:31 Let's pull back a little bit on the importance of having that dissenting voice where the idea might not even have value in the first place. One thing we know is, if there tends to be a group of unanimous thinking about a decision - so should you or should you not acquire another company. And then there's one voice that's basically against this acquisition, everyone else is for this acquisition. And this person is talking about how it'd be more work for people and how it's gonna, they're gonna have to learn new computer systems, there's going to be this huge upfront cost with this acquisition, and they're not thinking about profitability, they're thinking about the amount of energy and extra work them and everyone else is going to have to do. That voice could be completely wrong. This could be an amazing acquisition by the organization, but by them voicing it, it forces people to actually have to articulate the reasons for the acquisition more than if no other voice is present. So you can either convince yourself more clearly with a more intelligent set of rationales for why you should do this acquisition, or with that conversation realized there are some trade offs, because there are always trade offs and costs that are coming there. Before we make this acquisition, how are we going to prepare ahead of time to reduce those costs, minimize those costs, or outsource those costs elsewhere. The small amount of time for dissenting voice to come into the room increases the intelligence of decision making of that group, and the amount of ideas that are considered in that group and the amount of solutions that are considered by that group. Anytime that decision has great potential in terms of the finite resources, time, energy, attention, money, you want to make sure that you actually have a wide range of solutions and a wide range of information sources that you're considering. And so the first place for talking about unorthodox ideas that seemed to be potentially problematic is to come back to the science and clarify to the group, "We want to hear people's opinions, even if they seem wrongheaded, because it helps the group think through their decisions, irrespective of whether they commit to amplifying the voice of that dissenter."
Felicia Shakiba 18:55 And is it fair to say that when we are highlighting ideas that may not be popular, I think the fairness aspect that kind of comes into displaying, we are an organization of fairness, we want to hear everyone's voice and even bad ideas can eventually lead to good ideas. Is that fair to say that, that could come about within the organizational culture?
Todd Kashdan19:17 When I work with organizations as a consultant, I'm very clear that what you really want is not a handbook that has all the values and priorities of the organization. But you want to have a one pager that you can actually put in people's chairs before they walk in that room that can check the box and say, when you're in this room, we presume positive intent until proven otherwise, we avoid ad homonyms. Focus on the ideas, not the person. Share your idea and your criticism, even if you don't have an alternative vision of how we should be doing things and you have a list of exactly how the group is going to operate as communicating together in a room, at the same time. As opposed to assuming that you've had this conversation once that there's a handbook, every one is a set of conscientious, agreeable people that are in this room, you don't want to make any of those assumptions, because they'll always be new people that come into the room in terms of joining the group or leaving the group. And those singular characters can change the entire nature of people being willing to express ideas or being more likely to suppress their ideas. And so you have to live and breathe the culture regularly. And the only way to do that is to constantly remind people of the central principles of how you're going to relate to each other.
Felicia Shakiba 20:40 I know a lot of organizations are focused on, "We need the numbers of women in tech or different ethnicities in certain places, or functions of the organizations." Beyond that - succession planning or promotions, workplace culture, or even having that distribution of voices within the organization, what is the benefit to all of those things beyond hearing the ideas and voices? What is the end goal for an organization? What are they going to do better than their competitors with this distribution of diversity or increase in belonging and inclusiveness?
Todd Kashdan 21:14 I mean, Felicia, you just asked the question that every single organization that invests in whether it's diversity, equity inclusion, or now the term is diversity and belonging, whatever that is, they should be asking themselves that question and making sure there's a concrete answer. So if we go back a couple years, the answer was this is an end in itself. And I think your question is a really important one, which is, it's not. It's not an end in itself. The only way you can figure out whether you're making inroads towards these things you value is that you can measure and assess them in some way. If the end goal that you have is you want to have a representation in your group of people, demographically that is close in proximity to society, then you have to explain well, what's the reason for doing that? Now you can say it's fair, and then you could ask yourself- so in this group, though, why is fairness important? And you should be going down that hole, not as a philosophical exercise that you would do in your philosophy, 101 class, because you are going to have detractors. You're going to have people that aren't sure that this is the path to go.
And you should be able to clarify, the reason that we want to have a potentially equal distribution of men and women is because we know that if you have one woman, in an organizational group, they are more likely to feel excluded, and on the outside, less likely to share their views, and feel as if it is an us versus them mentality, just the inclusion of a second woman in a group has this transformative effect. Or now there is a faction, where they can feel as if because there is a another person, we are a block a voting bloc in this group. And so we feel empowered, we've have a sense of agency, where we're willing to challenge ideas that we think are foolish, and share ideas that we think are fortunate. And as you get to equal representation, another benefit tends to happen when you have more women in an organizational group, and that is that you tend to see more interpersonal sensitivity. Why do you want interpersonal sensitivity? Because that is the tendency is that you're willing to assume, in a sense, in terms of the quality of someone's ideas and contributions, and you're less likely to compare it to what they said the last time. So you get basically a fresh break if you're high in interpersonal sensitivity. The second part of interpersonal sensitivity, which is higher when there's a larger density of women in a group is perspective getting, and this is a broad strokes of sex differences is when there's a large distribution of women compared to men in a group, there is a tendency to take a step back and ask the question, "Tell me how you reach that idea in the first place?" How would you reach that conclusion, and not from a place of I'm going to try and get you and then put a nail in your coffin with some real good rhetoric, but that I want to understand the story behind your ideas, and men on average compared to women are less likely to do it. So now you have some science that beyond just, "We want more women in the group." And I think it's not just good to actually be able to explain why you make these decisions, but provide a good rationale, because then you get people on board, the fewer adversaries, the more efficiency that you have in terms of thinking and deciding in a group format.
Felicia Shakiba 24:42 Why might some people resist DEI&B initiatives and what can an organization do to overcome the resistance because to me what you're saying it sounds all very beneficial, but there are some organizations that struggle to make this a priority. And maybe it's not a priority. But what can we do from a people's perspective, when we're faced with that resistance?
Todd Kashdan 25:10 let's take an area that's not controversial, and then use that to compare it to the blue collar and white collar work world. So if you go into the world of sports, and you're drafting the next set of athletes, for your fencing team, your football team, basketball team, soccer team, you name the sport, the tendency is we're going to choose the greatest athlete that's on the table. And we're going to see, where do we have a weakness in terms of abilities, and we're going to find someone that's going to plug that hole, or if you have a strengths focus approach, you're going to say to yourself, regardless of how many people we have, in a position, if we have the next amazing potential Hall of Famer, that's 18 years of age, let's grab them, and we'll find a place for them because they're amazing. So from that perspective of sports, where it's a very clear objective outcome, win points, win games make money, it's easier to question the idea of well, what do we need diversity and equity for? This is about merit. It's subjective, it's clear. And why are you bringing extraneous variables into the equation.
And as you move into the Walmarts of the world, the supermarket's of the world and the Silicon Valley tech firms of the world and social media companies, and you're talking about the US postal mail, as you go into these organizations, the more that someone is aware of what is the fiscal element and health and longevity of an organization, it depends on having a sufficient number of resources and stable level of resources coming in on a regular basis, people could have more resistance to DEI and saying, again, you're bringing in extraneous variables that could potentially interfere with people having jobs, maintaining their jobs and having financial security. So it's important when you bring up something such as diversity, equity and inclusion, part of the disingenuous of this conversation is not acknowledging that there is always something that's costly when you bring something new it. So just as Felicia, you, you raised a great question. What is the reason that we want this diversity, equity, and inclusion in the first place? Why would we want to bring people that look differently and have different attributes and different personalities and like histories in there? Which is a great question. The next question is, is that, "How would bring this into the cultural fiber of an organization, how will this lead to costs that are unanticipated and or unintended, as we focus on this over and above the other considerations of just the health and longevity of the organization by itself?" And if you can't name anything, on the cost part of the ledger, that tells the other members of the group, and it should tell you that this hasn't been thought out sufficiently?
Felicia Shakiba 28:10 Yeah. And I think, from a people's perspective, it is one of the hardest things that we're trying to do. And I think that we have a lot of work to do. For our listeners that trying to make movements within the organization, what practical initial steps can organizations take to show their commitment to DEI&B and be and create a more inclusive environment?
Todd Kashdan 28:32 From the land of motivational interviewing as a clinical psychologist, one of the strategies is to figure out, what are the costs for staying the same, and basically, what are the benefits of staying the same? What are the costs of changing? What are the benefits of changing? What you want to focus on first, is how do you break inertia? So it's the two of those four quadrants, what are the costs of staying the same? And then what are the benefits of changing? And I think you wanted to have this as a group. And you want to make sure that you get input from individual members in terms of as they're thinking about this. So, you want people to think about who was working around them? Who are they working under? Who's working under them in terms of what are the costs of keeping things exactly as they are right now in terms of human capital? And then what are the benefits of actually modifying the social capital that's hanging around me? And if people can't answer those questions, they have difficulty with it. You are still at the contemplation phase. It's not ready for rollout. You still have to be having these deep conversations, looking up the science talking about the data, talking about what are the desired outcomes talking about what are you okay, and what are you grading and what are you basically insufficient in? And as those conversations progress, people get buy in and they get motivated to actually want to do something different than the status quo. When you drag everyone with you to change in this realm, and don't go through that contemplative questioning, you are creating unnecessary friction, they'll always be friction, but there will be unnecessary friction.
Felicia Shakiba 30:17 And I think that keeps people, in the top of mind of, what we're trying to accomplish from this perspective. Which leads to my next question , its, how can individuals contribute to building an inclusive culture within their organizations? And, what actions can they take to drive that positive change? And I think you mentioned it a little bit - engaging in that conversation of cost verse benefit - now verse later. Is there anything else that individuals could be doing?
Todd Kashdan 30:47 Oh, absolutely. Just think about the pipeline issue. Right? So, it might not be about seeking diversity and inclusion today, it could be as that I as an individual have a multi-year plan where I am going to make sure that I am going to mentor and bring in diverse ideas, perspectives, and talent into the pipeline. And so that means an audit of, where are you seeking talent? If you are using US News World rankings to find the newest employees and the newest interns. Well, you're probably by definition historically avoiding historically black colleges, because they have a different objective. US News World rankings focuses - one of their big criteria that's weighted heavily in terms of where you are as a college is, what's your endowment? That's not one of the primary outcomes for a historically black college. They're focusing on, how can we bring people that are basically low in socioeconomic status and find money so they can be the first generation students in these colleges. That makes you drop down the rankings in US News World rankings. At George Mason University, we're right near Howard University. Now they don't show up as one of the top schools according to these magazines, but we know it is basically the Harvard of historically black colleges. I've been saying for years, is that if we're saying to ourselves we have an insufficient racial diversity in the undergraduate and graduate level - right across the bridge is the pipeline that we haven't tapped into sufficiently. And, I think you have to be thinking more broadly in terms of where can you find talent that does not have the name brands attached to them? Which is also, having a different perspective. If you're taking everyone who went to Exeter, and went to Harvard and Yale and Brown, you're going to have a certain strand of comfort and stability in people's lives that's going to be a little bit of a different perspective than someone raised by a single parent who barely made it throughout their whole lives, put themselves through college while working through three jobs - that person is going to have a different perspective about your potential clients, and who your potential audiences are that you might not have considered previously. And all of these things are only available to you if you brought in the number of people with different perspectives into the room.
Felicia Shakiba 33:13 Todd, we've talked about strategies and leadership. What haven't we talked about today that you think people should know about or learn about?
Todd Kashdan33:19 One of the big ones is how do you have productive conflict? And, where we've teetered on the edges of this. But what I really think is, we have to assume we're going to disagree. We should be disagreeing because these are very important, emotionally laid issues. And we have to basically have some perameters of how are we going to disagree? And, one of the simplest levels that we know from science is separating relationships conflict from task conflict. And, when you have conflicts that involve relationships in terms of what people said to you three years ago, maybe someone didn't let you speak at a prior meeting - you felt as if it was personal and intentional. Those conversations should be had more one-on-one, independently from the group. They tend to corrode groups when they become the fulcrum of what the entire room is focusing on. But having conflict about the task, and this goes back to your question, I do want to highlight it again, which is, What is the fundamental objective of aiming for greater diversity in an organization? You're going to have some very wide ranging ideas that come up with that question.
Todd Kashdan 34:36 If an organization is asking it for the first time and allowing public conversation - and again, all I'm suggestion his that collect those ideas privately so that you can share the answers that are not attached to people with the full group. So people can actually reveal ugly, uncomfortable, unpopular ideas because the goal is to reveal the biases that exist and work with them. And if people aren't willing to share those ugly, uncomfortable thoughts then, they just pervade and viruses and you can't even do anything about them. You want to have the task conflict. But you want to have a way where you can disagree effectively and one of the ways of doing that is assuming positive intent. One of the ways of doing that is if people are going to disagree with other members of the room, one way to bring people's defenses down is trying to remind people of how they are loyal, committed group members. It forces you to be less humble because you're sharing all the things that you've done that you might no have gotten credit for in the past. So, setting up work events that occur there- you just remind them that this organization is your home and the reason you're disagreeing is because you care so much about it, not because you just want to be James Dean Rebel without a cause. By sharing how you have skin in the game and you are a committed loyal member, people's defenses come down and they're more likely to be curious and open to the ideas you are going to express.
Felicia Shakiba 36:06 Todd, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for being here.
Todd Kashdan36:10 Yeah, it's been great. Thank you for the provocative questions.
Felicia Shakiba 36:13 That’s Todd Kashdan, psychology professor at George Mason University and author of The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent and Defy Effectively.
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