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Stages of grief? The Diversity and Inclusion Paradigm

In many ways, the road an organization (or an individual) must follow to capitalize on its diversity is not unlike the “stages of grief.”

In the nearly 12 years since coming aboard at The Consortium — and, frankly, long before that — I’ve done a lot of thinking about what’s required to recognize the need for diversity and inclusion within an organization, nurture those efforts, and realize the results of that work.

In many ways, the road an organization (or an individual) must follow is not unlike the “stages of grief” that have become a common part of our vocabulary when dealing with the painful episodes in our lives. Walk through this paradigm with me and see if you recognize where your organization is on the continuum.

"The Five Stages of Grief" by Flickr user Cocomariposa. Used under Creative Commons license.
“The Five Stages of Grief” by Flickr user Cocomariposa. Used under Creative Commons license.

Ignorance (akin to “denial and isolation”). At this stage, an organization doesn’t recognize there’s a problem. And it certainly doesn’t recognize that there’s an opportunity in including people of diverse backgrounds. This stage is based in prejudice. Proponents often assume minorities “are just complaining.” They believe everyone has the same opportunity in America.

Awareness (akin go to “anger”). Here, the organization’s leaders realize they might have an issue with diversity and inclusion among their team members. However, they are still hampered by the belief that they treat everyone equally. Diversity “is not my problem.”

Acknowledgement (akin to “bargaining”). At this stage, leaders realize there is a problem. They know they are not making enough of an effort to encourage organizational diversity. They recognize they are missing opportunities to benefit from diversity within the organization. But they are overwhelmed. They don’t know what to do about it.

Problem/Symptom Orientation (“depression”). Here, the organization is taking fitful steps to address the issue. Leadership may establish affinity groups within the organization for members of various underrepresented minorities (but fail to give them any specific responsibilities or objectives. The organization may make financial contributions to “the right” organizations. It may hire a “chief diversity officer,” with a title and a salary, but no authority, no involvement in strategy, recruitment or retention. The recognition is clear, but efforts to address the problem are superficial.

Solution Orientation (akin to “acceptance”). At this point, the organization is clearly taking hold of the problem in a meaningful way. Leadership develops strategies to segment their product markets to appeal to a variety of diverse audiences, customizing marketing approaches or building diversity into its strategy. Recruiting a diverse workforce becomes a priority, and strategies emerge that center on an inclusive recruitment process. The organization may even develop products that target various market segments.

Acculturation (here, the analogy breaks down!). The organization reaches an enlightened state, recognizing that diversity includes everyone. Everyone is part of an inclusive, diverse organization, and everyone has a role in nurturing that diversity. The organization has an institutional understanding of the opportunities inclusiveness and diversity have on every facet of its operations. It’s built into the organization’s DNA, its strategic planning, its evaluation process. Everyone recognizes that the organization’s very ability to compete depends on the recognition of diversity inside and outside the organization.

Where does your organization fit? How does your organization’s culture and location on this paradigm affect your recruiting efforts? And how can you help move your organization through the paradigm toward acculturation?

NEXT: The changing demographics of the United States demand a sense of urgency toward diversity and inclusion.

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