The Benefits of Inclusivity: From the Personal to the Organizational
May 16, 2017 | Tim Gonzalez
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I was the brazen symbol of diversity in a predominantly white school district—a school district in which my mixed-race parents were told they could not purchase a house. Despite the visible appearance of a direct connection to my ancestry, I didn’t speak enough Spanish to understand what my grandparents were saying to each other. For this, I felt like a poser in the Hispanic community and a sideshow in my school district. Based on the desire to understand the nexus of my own intersectionality, I chose to study Latin-American classical music.
But even my own awareness of that decision-making process was not enough for me to understand my motivation. It wasn’t until attending UW-Madison that I had conversations with other second-generation immigrants in similar circumstances and began to think of my experience as representative of a single point on a sliding scale of acculturation and foreignness in the eyes of others. I became comfortable with the fact that I represent only one form of the Latino immigrant experience in North America—one in a multi-splendored variety. From those conversations, I began to understand what diversity meant to me and what coping mechanisms I’d been employing to deal with how inclusive/exclusionary my environments had been.
If I had one advantage in my attempt to understand my role in contributing to a diverse and inclusive environment, it was a piece of advice I was offered as a child. On the way to a lesson with a new music instructor, my dad offered me this: “This guitar teacher is going to show you different things and explain them in new ways. Ask yourself, ‘Why is he teaching me that? What are we working toward?’ Figure out why his teaching style is different.”
My dad’s words stuck with me. I found myself often asking those exact questions to fit what I was learning into a larger context and to understand the perspectives of my instructors. I gained a greater awareness for the information my teachers were trying to impart and appreciation for the form their presentation took, for example, one guitar instructor, a visual artist, explained the modes as colors on a palette, another instructor, a fierce old church lady demanded
disciplined practices, outlining every minute of study and squeezing the most effort from every finger.
The ideas of diversity and inclusion became fleshed out as I moved from Wisconsin. Living in Jackson Heights, Queens, and meeting recent immigrants taught me how other individuals struggled to maintain their cultural traditions while socializing and experiencing a broader variety than they had ever encountered. Watching my friends navigate their situation as I struggled to find a community of my own was a lesson in flexibility.
Eventually, I joined a group of individuals with a common interest: creating the world’s largest rooftop farm, Brooklyn Grange. I witnessed people from different countries help each other, despite their own struggles. We worked together as we tried to overcome our own preconceived notions and the conflicts inherent in our different modes of communication.
I enjoy interacting with people from other backgrounds because they have different experiences and perspectives to draw from; this makes them able to imagine viewpoints beyond my horizon of thought. Honestly, it makes people more interesting and offers a different set of tools for dealing with common problems. It’s a way of traveling—you get to examine a cultural perspective that’s new to you and learn how to navigate local landscapes. It’s from such conversations that I learned more about the uncomplicated privileges I live with because of the fortunate chance of my height, gender, and heteronormativity.
I’m new to the IT field, so beyond personal experience I don’t know that these generalizations hold true empirically. But based on the large body of research on diversity and inclusion (some of which I’ve included below), I am comfortable concluding that diversity and inclusion programs offer people working in the IT field two strong advantages. First, understanding how to work with people of different backgrounds uses the same skill set as understanding how to navigate interrelated computer systems, in that you learn to focus on a broader context for understanding specific expectations. Secondly, diversity and inclusion training hones a skill set that helps one overcome conflicts inherent in different modes of communication, building critical IT skills to understand communication protocols used to organize the transfer of data and simply helping people with their computer issues.
Based on these conclusions, I believe that a more diverse field of IT professionals will benefit any organization. With that in mind, I can offer an observation without a prescription: A large gender gap exists in IT and resolving to close it would benefit everyone.
Sources and Studies:
Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers, and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same.
Companies with more women on the board statistically outperform their peers over a long period of time.
Deloitte Australia research
Inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments.
High-Impact Talent Management research
Among more than 128 different practices studied, talent practices that predict the highest- performing companies are all focused on building an Inclusive Talent System.
TAKE AWAY: Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers.