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The climate of diversity, equity, and inclusion is deeply embedded in today’s industry. As a result, companies, large and small, are responsible for ensuring that DE&I initiatives are maintained throughout the work environment.  Dr. David Smith shares a strategic view of this objective in his article, Emotional Intelligence and Cognitive Paths to DE&I Initiatives.

In a recent forbes.com article, Roberta Moore discussed the success and failure of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. Moore states that at the foundation of DE&I lies emotion, reminding us of our natural “fight or flight” reactions to danger. This is innate to all of us for survival. However, she points out that while our brains have evolved, in many cases, it has not reached the point of distinguishing between real physical threat and psychological or imagined threat. While different, they both can cause strong emotional reactions.

I agree but would propose that in conjunction with emotion, we need to look at how our brain naturally generalizes stimuli, often allowing the creation of unfair stereotyping.

A glance at today’s news programs demonstrates this. Many support the goal of DE&I in this country but have allowed their emotions to cloud their thinking. This has resulted in family bickering, governing partisanship, and in some cases, civil unrest. Moore’s message is that for change management programs like DE&I to be sustainable, effort must be made to change one’s emotions and thoughts. For this reason, she recommends offering emotional intelligence training in advance of change management programs. I would add that openness to DE&I depends on two areas of our brain, one at the emotional level and the other at the cognitive or intellectual level. Without getting into the anatomy of the brain, I will cover both below.

Cognitive Processes

We should begin with how our brain processes incoming information. Each of us are bombarded with millions of stimuli each day, from visual patterns to high-level thoughts and ideas.  A mechanism we use to avoid becoming overwhelmed by this is to group similar stimuli into one category.  This is called generalization or stereotyping.  While a helpful process, this may lead us to inappropriately react the same way to slightly different stimuli.  This is the opportunity for generalization to become stereotyping, leading us into trouble.  For example, cloudy days typically mean inclement weather.  If we were to cancel outdoor plans every time we see clouds in the sky, we might become a hermit.  However, a reasonable climatologist can teach us how to differentiate cumulonimbus clouds from cumulus clouds.  This way, we don’t allow stereotyping to become a harmful process.

The same holds for social stereotyping.  Violent behavior will be observed more frequently in neighborhoods with active street gangs. Unfortunately, much of the television news footage may focus on gangs from minority groups.  A rational reaction to this is for individuals to fear the gang members.  An irrational response is to fear or punish all members of that neighborhood.

This is an unfortunate outcome from a primitive process of our brain.  Helping individuals who support a DE&I initiative to understand this natural tendency and learn ways to avoid this will go a long way in gaining support for the initiative.

Emotional Intelligence

As if irrational stereotyping isn’t enough to sabotage a DE&I initiative, Moore explains the makeup of Emotional Intelligence (EI) and how addressing this also sets the tone for success. Finally, she discusses four strategies to build emotional strength in participants to take on the difficult task of DE&I initiatives.

Normalize Irrational Thoughts

While Moore only touches on this, she reinforces my discussion of irrational stereotyping and points out that this can be the root of non-acceptance.  By addressing this before DE&I efforts begin, it sets the stage for more understanding and cooperation.

Develop Empathy   

Empathy is an essential skill for difficult discussions.  Moore points out that having high EI allows us to shift our perspective, looking through the lens of someone else’s point of view.  The person doesn’t have to agree with others. Instead, the goal is to understand what it’s like to deal with the others’ challenges.  This will lead to open conversation.

Develop Assertiveness

Moore asserts that highly assertive people care about mutually reciprocal outcomes in which both parties can get the most of their wants and needs met.  She differentiates those highly assertive from one who is aggressive, in which case the latter would only care about their own well-being.

Discuss Impulse Control

As Moore states, this seems evident since losing control can only lead to conflict.  Her point here is to help everyone from blurting out something that they will later regret.  Avoiding this and strengthening the other three areas can result in good communications and progress in attaining the goals of DE&I.

 


 

Summary

Preparing workers to be open to DE&I initiatives is undoubtedly beneficial. I’ve summarized the approach and suggested the outcome of doing so. In addition, being proactive in your hiring process sets your organization up for even greater success. For over a decade, E.A.S.I-Consult has pioneered the screening of applicants for what we call the right “work attitude.” As a result, we’ve had great success across industries improving the quality of workers hired and their positive attitude toward work.

Two critical dimensions of our work attitude pre-employment test, the Work Styles Predictor (WSP®), are quite relevant to our discussion of DE&I success. These are team orientation – having the interest and ability to build positive working relations with others to achieve work goals, and adaptability – adjusting to work demands and changing priorities quickly. Candidates scoring high in these areas should be more likely to embrace DE&I and respond more openly to DE&I training.

In summary, companies are more likely to be successful with DE&I initiatives by being proactive in who they hire and by offering cognitive and EI training prior to implementing the initiative.

About the Author

David Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of E.A.S.I-Consult®. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government   agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring advisement. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.