How to Build Diversity Intelligence in Your Organization

I recently came across an interesting concept developed by Claretha Hughes of the University of Arkansas: diversity intelligence. Hughes argues that diversity intelligence is on par with other forms of intelligence, including reasoning and problem-solving ability (the type of intelligence the intelligence quotient – IQ – test is designed to measure), emotional intelligence (EQ), and cultural intelligence (CQ). Diversity intelligence (DQ) is distinct from CQ in that instead of just focusing on group differences that arise from culture and background, DQ also looks at individual differences in thinking and behavior patterns in an effort to fully integrate individuals from federally protected classes into organizations. According to Hughes in her 2016 book Diversity Intelligence, DQ is “the capability of individuals to recognize the value of workplace diversity and use this information to guide their thinking and behavior.”

The benefits of DQ

Human Systems diversity intelligence 1Hughes believes that organizations are responsible for doing their part to work towards correcting wrongs against groups of people who were discriminated against in the past; we do this by promoting DQ and holding ourselves accountable for the achievement of DQ-related goals. Research shows that organizations who successfully integrate diverse individuals and promote and celebrate diversity of thought and behavior experience increased productivity. Successful integration can also, according to Cletus, et. al. (2018), draw more talent and increase brand attractiveness, in addition to increasing individual critical thinking, problem-solving, and employee professional skills. Finally, if your organization successfully promotes DQ, you are more likely to avoid diversity-related lawsuits and scandal.

What does DQ look like?

If you have high DQ, you are able to critically assess your perceptions of what is “normal” and decide if you think it’s normal because it’s what’s actually best for the group, or because it’s just what you are used to. That is, you are aware of your biases, and you continually work to become aware of and process unconscious biases. You will advocate for the rights of others in your organization by fully accepting, valuing, and motivating everybody, with special attention to those who have been historically vulnerable to discrimination. You recognize a stereotype when you see one and reject it in favor a more nuanced and objective view of human behavior. Finally, you embrace the diverse learning and working styles of employees.  

How do you build DQ?

Sims (2018) says that leaders who demonstrate diversity intelligence are, first and foremost, aware of what classes of people are protected under federal employment law. When it comes down to it, the only individuals who are not part of a protected class are white males who are under 40 and not disabled, not a military veteran, do not identify as LGBTQ, and do not adhere to a particular religion. You also can’t be discriminated against based on your country of origin, your genetic information, or pregnancy status. I’m tempted to stop right here and say “just treat everybody with unconditional respect and kindness” because, truly, how many people are not in a protected class?

It is also helpful if we learn the history and political purposes behind various U.S. movements and actions, including manifest destiny, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA) of 1972, Affirmative Action, and any other national projects designed to limit discrimination in the workplace. This will provide important context and background knowledge for practicing DQ.Human Systems diversity intelligence 4

You may be asking yourself “if everybody who tends to be vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace is already protected under federal law, why are we worrying about this?” There is always a big gap between what the policy, or law is, and what happens in practice. This is because laws are very general, so as to give different groups and individuals the room to apply the law to their specific circumstances, and also because it takes awhile for everybody to get on board. Adhering to laws like the EEOA requires significant changes in perspective and belief systems, time to learn and make the changes, and, of course, money. In the case of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as well as many other similar laws, a lot of the enforcement doesn’t happen until an entity gets sued for non-compliance.

Creating a diversity-intelligent organization

Human Systems diversity 5Research suggests several ways that you can create a culture of DQ in your organization:

Hire people who demonstrate diversity intelligence. Incorporate interview questions designed to encourage job candidates to talk about their experiences with diversity – do they accept and embrace ideas and behaviors that were potentially useful, but very different from their own? Are they aware of the protected classes and the history behind those laws? If not, do they seem open to learning?

Build diversity intelligence into job descriptions and organizational processes.  It is not enough to just train your workforce; in fact, training alone has been shown to increase bias and discrimination. Make the achievement of concrete DQ Human Systems Diversity 6goals a priority.

Promote a culture of forgiveness. Encourage your employees to manage conflict directly and with kindness, instead of allowing resentment to build.

Be authentic. Authentic leaders are those who practice self-regulation, building self-awareness, and processing and deriving meaning from their experiences. These individuals use what they learn from their reactions to situations as well as their experiences to improve their relationships and become more authentically themselves.

Protected class members must be aware of accountable to themselves and the organization for the promotion and achievement of diversity intelligence goals. Individuals who belong to a class of people that is vulnerable to discrimination have a special obligation to themselves and to the organization to purposefully set DQ goals and advocate for themselves and for positive organizational change.

Learn More

Contact us to talk about how you could build your diversity intelligence or that of your organization through coaching or goal-setting DQ workshops.

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