« Career and Internship Opportunities - Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles (Calabasas and Van Nuys, Calif.); New York City, Washington, D.C. | Main | Gaps in Moving the Needle on Diversity »

Inclusive Visioning 

Submitted by: Sylvia Gail Kinard, Esq.

The future requires more than “thinking outside the box”. It requires a re-definition of what the box is, in order to let go of institutional structures that no longer serve us. Inclusive Visioning™ is a tool that organizations can use to “re-define the box” and harness the power of diversity in ways that can transform an institutions self-perception and revolutionize its vision.

American society is becoming more diverse in its viewpoints and values, and that’s a good thing. Researcher Katherine Phillips, believes that increased diversity will give us permission to be ourselves in new ways. Indeed, Phillips states that the mere presence of social diversity makes people with independent points of view more willing to voice those views and others more willing to listen.

Yet, even academic institutions seem resistant to intellectual integration. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (“NCES”) at most postsecondary institutions, the faculty and staff remain predominately white, at a time when white student enrollment has and is projected to decline. In a 2015 report, NCES notes that among 1.5 million full-time instructional faculty in degree granting postsecondary institutions that were surveyed: 79 percent were white, 6 percent were African American, 5 percent were Hispanic, 10 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, and less than 1 percent other. NCES reported comparable statistics in a survey of the administrative ranks, noting that of 2.9 million staff members, 69 percent were white, 7 percent African American, 5 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian and 12% other.

Diversity is important because it fuels innovation, improves intercultural communication and produces a better organizational brand. Yet, despite, so many positives, institutional ambivalence to diversity remains.

One possible reason may have been discovered by Yale researcher Kenji Yoshino in his book, “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights.” individuals “cover” to tone down a disfavored identity and fit into the mainstream culture.” According to Yoshino, the benefits of diversity will remain elusive if members of minority groups are only accepted when they conform to and reflect the values, cultural norms and aspirations of the majority.

Therefore, the mere presence of previously under-represented groups will not reflect a true integration of diverse ideas and viewpoints, if these individuals are “covering” their uniqueness in order to fit in. However, there is an approach, institutions can adopt to cultivate true diversity. Inclusive Visioning™ (“IV”) is an approach that helps institutions develop strategic plans that are an organic synthesis of equally valued ideas. The IV system flattens unnecessary hierarchy by pushing power down and out. It infuses diversity into the strategic planning process through a technique of team imagining.

Think of Silicon Valley during its infancy. These billion-dollar companies were founded by university whiz kids, who imported the Petri dish dynamics of their college experience to shape the environments of their start-up businesses. To allow spontaneous creativity to thrive, these cutting-edge businesses allowed pool tables and dogs; flexible working hours; organic cafeterias and crash pads. Similarly, the IV system helps institutions understand how and what they need to change in order to promote new dynamic growth – i.e. to re-think the box.

Many forward-leaning organizations, find their growth hindered by straight-jackets of tradition and hierarchical structures. Hierarchical systems are often resistant to diverse points of view and averse to innovation. These internal structures can rigidify the institutional ego in ways that consolidate all power at the top and ignore the fact that good ideas can bubble up from unexpected places. The best organizations are eliminating artificial walls that keep them from gaining a competitive advantage and finding ways to share decision making power across a broader spectrum of stakeholders.

Change leaders must identify historical impediments to inclusion and address systemic resistance to diversity. A key step towards removing historical barriers is to understand the organization’s “back story.” Back story is a film term that refers to information about a character that isn’t seen on the screen but is essential for the actor to understand in order to capture the nuances of the character he/she is portraying.

Similarly, institutions have back stories, which leaders must understand in order to clearly identify ingrained values that are resistant to inclusive decision making and need to be eliminated.

In today’s world, the speed at which knowledge advances belies the top-down manner in which power has traditionally been exercised. Creating an inclusive vision will, therefore, require that institutional objectives and goals be both identified and executed by teams or micro communities that collaborate as partnerships of equals.

If Yoshino is correct, many organizations err when they only reward individuals who most closely conform to the status quo while ignoring or minimizing the contributions of those who don’t. Diversity is not just about hiring people or recruiting students who are “different.” Diversity is a process of infusing the institution with non-traditional values and experiences which help to move the institution beyond the limitations of its past and re-shape its institutional “box” in new and exciting ways.

Through team imagining, institutions can promote the development of breakthrough ideas through a process of organic brainstorming. Team imagining helps to promote cultural diffusion, by suspending the false belief of what is best, what is acceptable and what “should” be done. It allows team members to “uncover” the strength of non-traditional ideas and creates a space where consensus can be reached. This power for dynamic change can only be released when people feel free to make contributions that reflect their uniqueness and their intellectual diversity is not, as Yoshino warns, “covered”.

Finally, once an institution has embraced diversity as a strategic goal, it will need to develop a MAP (Multicultural Action Plan). Institutions must be intentional about its diversity goals and have a specific strategy, a “MAP” for achieving them. A MAP provides the tools institutions needs to ask the tough, crucial questions that will ultimately lead to a more informed vision of its future.

Inclusive Visioning suggests that institutions benefit, when they allow room not just for diverse voices to be “heard” but allow these voices to shape the very fabric of its operating vision, mission and goals.


Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.