Companies and organisations having a dynamic policy of diversity within the workforce observe increases in creativity, innovation and performance. However, diversity can be a disruptive force that challenges comfort zones for firms and their people. Prof. Junko Takagi, currently developing a MOOC with her students on the subject of Diversity, leads us into the heart of upheaval and explains why we should embrace it.
Armchair or high wire? It’s all about equilibrium really
People and organizations have an inherent preference for stability, and seek to create social structures and interactions that are both meaningful and resist time. Indeed, on an individual level, theories point to discomfort and disrupting psychological events as key motivations for humans to take action – effectively to remove this discomfort and regain the balance associated with well-being. Where an individual cannot steer disruption back to former or a new framework of “normality”, destabilisation is seen as the seen as the culprit for a plethora of psychological problems.
Likewise, historically, firms and organisations have searched for the need to create stability beyond the initial creativity stage of start-up and early growth. This can be most evidently seen in the organising or structuring of a company into departments, services, and teams, or then again the implementation of processes and standardisation of procedures in order to achieve efficiency and performance. The contemporary organisation attempts to foster creativeness and innovation through any number of initiatives – hot-desking, intrapreneurship, organisational change, for example – but for those that in parallel retain control systems that systematically monitor, measure and report organisational activities, these powerful stabilising tools are a sign that the search for equilibrium is still seen as necessary, even essential.
I am stable, therefore I am
In a nutshell, people require balance and organisations required stability. In the case of the individual, that solidness obtained from psychological balance gives us and others a consistent notion of who we are. For organisations, stability is equated with a recognisable organisational identity. Rules, frameworks, process, and structure enable those who engage with an organisation – be it employees, customers or suppliers – to understand and adhere to the organisation’s “experience”. Indeed, walking into Marks & Spencer’s or staying at one of the hotels in the Accor Group remains a comforting experience for all – we know what to expect, we feel safe, we know that quality is constant. But what happens when organisations need to change and evolve?
Time for a little disruption
In order to change and develop, people and organisations need to challenge their comfort zones and step out into disequilibrium and instability. For organisations this may occur through transformation strategies that re-organise departments and teams, change working environments or locations, and break into foreign markets. For people, one of the easiest ways of doing this is to travel and to encounter different habits, languages and cultures. While many would agree that this can be, finally, a pleasurable experience, they would also own up to having felt a certain unease, maybe shock, displeasure, and even fear when initially coming to grips with this new environment and its new rules of behaviour. Some may enjoy the taste and seek further destabilising thrills, while others will return home comforted in the thought that they are returning to their own, well-known and fully understood culture – in short, their comfort zone. Such experiences put individuals to the test and in essence, an international experience is a diversity experience. It is the cultural diversity that is at the heart of the destabilization and learning. In the same way, organizations also experience diversity as a destabilising factor.
Give diversity a hug
Mergers – those such as the Air France-KLM merger in 2004 or that of Renault and Nissan – are classic examples of national and business cultures coming into initial clash and producing destabilisation among the workforce used to their own custom and practice. Such mergers can produce extreme events such as labour-shedding, but in hindsight – a decade or more on – the results of that disruption have seen to have been generally positive. Similarly, research into the impact of women on boards within organisations have shown advantages being born of the “disruptive” presence of diversity in governance. Evidence from a study in Norway has pointed to directors expressing the belief that women deliberated and evaluated risks more thoroughly, thus enhancing the quality of board decisions overall and more generally, corporate governance.
Diversity, therefore, is a way to invoke and create disruptions to the routine of both individuals and organisations. It is, moreover, a source of instability and unbalance which produces psychological discomfort. And as with any discomfort we meet, we naturally tend to respond by resisting that difference, that change. Despite this challenge, however, the gathering evidence of the benefits of diversity, in parallel with environmental and contextual pressures for change, is increasingly leading organisations over the threshold of resistance to embracing it.
The L’Oréal and ESSEC Chair of Leadership & Diversity event in Paris, June 13th
The event: The Annual Leadership and Diversity Conference sees Chair students present the project work – the creation of a MOOC on diversity by young professionals for young professionals – with an objective to sensitize the generation entering the workforce on the importance of reflecting on diversity issues to generate new directions for future leaders.
Visit the ESSEC Center of Excellence on Management and Society
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