Five D&I terms that every leader should know and use

a collection of different people in zoom call grids

By Inge Woudstra

September is the time when we pay even closer attention to Inclusion as we celebrate National Inclusion Week – this year from the 26th of September to the 2nd of October.

We heed Inclusion by improving how we behave towards each other.  This month, we focus in particular on the Use of Language, the 7th of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours(SM).

When it comes to the Use of Language for leaders, we believe that leaders who are not yet in the habit of utilising terminology that reflects Inclusion run the risk of getting stuck in the past.  To help ensure that doesn’t happen, we offer you 5 terms that should become part of your vocabulary toolkit in the workplace.

1. The Diversity Bonus

Coined by Scott E. Page in his book of the same name, Page explains that the challenges businesses are facing, and therefore the necessary solutions, are becoming ever more complex. We know that, when it comes to solving complex issues, a team beats an individual. However, a diverse team beats a non-diverse team. 1+1=3, but only if the 1 and 1 are different. That’s when your team gains its Diversity Bonus.

Many people believe that there is a trade-off between diversity and excellence. Page argues that is not the case. Diverse teams bring excellence. Diversity isn’t just about being fair and equal; it isn’t just the right thing to do; Diversity is an actual asset that gives your team a competitive edge over others.

As leaders, using the Diversity Bonus both as a team and as a way of thinking will bring Inclusion to life and make it easier to embed any existing D&I ambitions.

2. Resistant Capital
A group of diverse individuals brings excellence because each person contributes with their diverse experiences and perspective. But there’s more! Leaders from underrepresented groups don’t just bring that different perspective; they are also likely to contribute with their ‘Resistant Capital’.
Resistant Capital are skills a person develops as a result of being part of a community that actively challenges inequality and oppression. One prominent example is Greta Thunberg. Gretha grew up as a neurodiverse person and found it challenging to be understood by peers.  As a result, she has developed skills that help her deal with adverse challenges in a creative and tenacious manner; skills that others, growing up under more conventional circumstances, would not have had the need to develop.  Similarly, leaders with Resistant Capital are going to be better equipped to deal with the volatility and complexity of today’s business environment – something that every leader should bear in mind.

In fact, according to Dr Tara J. Yosso, there are 6 other forms of capital that people from underrepresented groups stand out for.   Those looking for emerging leaders amidst their teams should be adding these additional forms of capital to their list of requisite leadership skills.

3. Culture Add
Now that we know about the Diversity Bonus and Resistant Capital, we can start substituting the term ‘Culture Add’ for the term ‘Culture Fit’.  Culture Add describes the additional benefits and skills that people from underrepresented groups offer, whether they ‘fit’ with the existing culture or not.  We now know that when we look for Culture Fit, we tend to hire people similar to those already in the team.  But when we’re after Culture Add,  we start looking out for different traits, skills and talents in potential hires.
4. Psychological Safety
A diverse team is not enough to achieve excellence and reap the Diversity Bonus. To make the most of all those diverse views, people need to feel safe to express them – safe from career-limiting repercussions or views.

When people know they don’t have to fear humiliation or retribution, they are more likely to speak up even if their view might be unpopular. They are more likely to share an idea, even if it seems a bit weird or impossible, and they are more likely to do something in a different way, even if it’s not how it has always been done.

A team in which members contribute in this fashion all the time is a psychologically safe team.  Leaders need to learn what they need to do in order for team members to feel valued, respected and  psychologically safe.

5. Safe spaces
Some topics are harder to discuss than others, especially at work. Emotions and emotional experiences are topics that fit into this category. Yet it is vital to share these in a team at work, as they do influence how people feel, talk and perform.

A safe space at work is an environment that creates a feeling of freedom to openly express concerns and deep thoughts, and find a sense of acceptance and understanding.  People are in a safe space when they know that this form of self-expression and exposure will not jeopardise their respect or worth.

During the pandemic we have seen that those who were offered a safe space to share their vulnerabilities were able to build a stronger bond with their teams.

Safe spaces do not always involve the leader being there; sometimes it is necessary to involve a person from outside the team to create that safety. It’s up to leaders to ensure team members have these spaces, to allow our diverse teams to share and bond.

When we talk about the Diversity Bonus and Resistant Capital, we start conversations that show the value of diversity.  When we then talk about Culture Add, we help attract that diversity of thought.  When we then learn to create psychological safety in our teams and provide safe spaces for difficult conversations, we truly bring out the best in our people.  For this reason, leaders who are D&I-minded ought to make these terms part of their routine business vocabulary.