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15 Oct. 2015 | Comments (0)

Watch the On Demand Recording of our July 2015 Book Discussion web cast, featuring author, Dr. Shelton Goode, DPA, Director, Diversity & Inclusion at Oshkosh Corporation, as he discusses his latest book,Diversity Managers: Angels of Mercy or Barbarians at the Gate.


In conducting research for my book, I discovered that more than half of U.S. C-Suite Executives that I interviewed rank diversity management and inclusive leadership as the least important leadership skill.   

The study, “Diversity Managers: Angels of Mercy or Barbarians at the Gate, is an evidenced-based assessment of the relationship between diversity management and organizational effectiveness. The book analyzes several leadership practices to identify what makes leaders effective in today’s global workplace.  

It was a rather disturbing finding, especially considering the way the world is going and how integrated the global economy is.  I believe the terms “diversity and inclusion” may have skewed the results a bit as these words have different meanings and implications for different organizations.

I considered using other terms during the interview, such as “cultural literacy” or “cultural fluency,” as these seem to come closer to the larger field of organizational behavior, and describes a leader’s ability to work with people who are different from himself or herself.

The conventional wisdom is that today’s leaders must manage diverse work teams and create inclusive working environments for them to perform at their highest level. It’s really incumbent on every leader to understand what everybody’s bringing to this collective effort and how can they contribute not only their unique identity, but point of view, way of thinking, ideas and so on to solve some of the enormous problems organizations are facing.

This seems straightforward enough. Some might say it’s a no-brainer. So, why did U.S. corporate executives at the C-suite level rank diversity and inclusion least important of all the study’s leadership skills?

Part of it may be that the words diversity and inclusion may be associated with political correctness. That is to say simply not offending people who are different from yourself. In the current business environment that we’re in now, political correctness is seen as something nice but not central or critical, so they tended to rank those items lower. In addition, most executive interviewed held a kind of widespread conventional belief that “people are at their core the same,” and this may have impacted the research results.

In general, employees all have the same needs, the same drives. In fact, I pointed out in my research that employees across a wide spectrum of diverse people are looking “respect” in the workplace.  So it should come as little surprise that corporate leaders believe that “if you just treat everybody the same then we’ll all get along and everything will be fine, and just ignore differences.”

But, corporate leaders need also to, at the same time, make use of and find out how differences affect contributions in the workplace, so that this information can be better leveraged.

I acknowledged that ethnocentrism lives. It seems to be built into human nature. People see everything in terms of their own set of beliefs, their own kind of unconscious way of seeing the world. So, if I’m a leader, I kind of expect everyone to figure out how I think and contribute to my belief system.”

Add ethnocentrism to the inherent difficulties in managing diverse people, particularly in a tough economy where many leaders and managers are focused on the bottom line, and the cumulative leadership effort required may have something to do with the study’s results.

As I moved through this process of research, formulating the results and thinking about implications, I found myself thinking about the classic leader, a middle-aged white male, and thinking about what is it these leaders need to think about in order to be more effective.

The ability to work with a range of people – to get them connected and to both honor as well as leverage their differences – is fundamental to ensuring that diversity and inclusion contributes to organizational effectiveness.

It’s not just about making the numbers. Where leaders have failed — and this really bears on diversity and inclusion as well as the other leadership skills — is in the area of authenticity.   

Leaders need to be able to see themselves and what they’re doing and gauge the impact of their behavior on others and on the organization. They also must be honest, ask the questions of themselves, and begin to change their behavior to become more inclusive leaders.  


View our complete listing of Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author:Dr. Shelton Goode

    Dr. Shelton Goode

    Dr. Shelton Goode is Chief Compliance Officer and Executive Director, Diversity and Inclusion for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) which is the principal public transport opera…

    Full Bio | More from Dr. Shelton Goode


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