The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 2) Human Nature

The funny thing about human resources, management, organizational and leadership development is that this is all work largely about human beings, yet these disciplines cling to a flawed and antiquated model of human behavior.  There remains this default belief that human beings are rational and logical, that we see the world as it is, consider all available evidence and that we make rational and logical choices and decisions based on unbiased consideration of the evidence before us.

That is straight up fairy tale.

Peter Senge talks about “learning organizations.”  Some people do some really cool work around “agile organizations,” or “responsible organizations,” but I think that most of us work in ignorant organizations.

What do you call it when people use obsolete information or knowledge to make decisions?  Ignorance.

I think that the above line comes from Alvin Toffler, but I cannot seem to track it down and verify it.  It does capture the point that I am trying to make though

Organizations that claim “employees are our most valuable asset,” do not actually understand employees…do not actually understand human beings and human nature.  People that work in the discipline called “human resources,” do not understand human beings.  People and organizations that educate, serve, govern and care for human beings yet hold fast to this inaccurate and antiquated understanding of human beings.

This is certainly applicable to diversity and inclusion work as well…part of our work is to help people and organizations make more accurate, reality based decisions about people.  The problem is that people have a tendency to think that we are already good at this.

We have learned a lot about the human being, the human brain, and the human being in relation to other human beings in the past few decades.  There has been tremendous learning and progress in the fields of social psychology, neuroscience, neuroculture, social neuroscience, social cognition, neuroscience, behavioral economics, network science and other fields around how the brain processes information, how we make decisions and figure out how to relate to each other.  For some reason, much of this insight has not found its way into the worlds of management, organizational and leadership development, human resources and diversity & inclusion.  We still have people (people with big ass titles even!) running around saying things like “just don’t judge people…there is no need to focus on diversity and inclusion, just don’t judge people.”

As if.

We cannot change something we do not acknowledge and this belief that we have the capacity to even be non-judgmental is indicative of our lack of understanding and it stands in the way of us reducing the impact of the incredibly judgmental tendencies of all human beings.  The brain does a fair amount of decision making and categorizing without our conscious participation, so having good intentions is really just a small piece of the puzzle.

We could do better in working with other human beings if we updated our understanding of human beings.  And as D&I practitioners, this is a huge opportunity to bring some new science to our work and also to help make some aspects of what we do more applicable and actionable to some of the folks we are trying to reach.  I think we need to be serious about integrating the new brain science into our work, it is really powerful stuff and so applicable.  We also need to be good at helping folks understand cognitive bias, blindspots, labels, stereotypes and stereotype threat, attribution errors, implicit associations, cognitive dissonance, conformity and other individual and social tendencies that influence our interactions with each other and the decisions that we make about each other.

Some resources:

Unconscious Bias

The Hidden Brain

The Social Animal


HALO Effect

Whistling Vivaldi

Social Cognition

Incentive Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Social Intelligence

Implicit Association Test

Brain Flow

On the topic of the future of this work, I want to remind you to put a couple of dates on your calendar.  Please help us architect the future of this work, and in doing so, architect the future of our organizations and communities.

April 1-2, 2011 || Diversity and Inclusion Unconference || Omaha, NE

October 24-26, 2011 || SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference || Washington, D.C.

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (prologue)

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 1) Social Media

Be good to each other.

  1. Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference

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