Do We Need a Difference Pipeline?

Frederick A. Miller Next month, two of the consultants from our Firm will attend a diversity summit in London. The session descriptions convey that people at the highest levels of global industry are asking serious questions about diversity and inclusion. In one case, though, I wonder about a different way to approach the issue.

The summit brochure describes an event whose language resonates with our thinking in many respects. The Diversity Summit 2012 (6 December in London), sponsored by the organization that publishes The Economist magazine, is bringing together 150 senior executives from some of the world’s most respected organizations, including the World Bank, FedEx Express, Deutsche Bank, and Wal-Mart. Together with psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, and others, they will hold high-level discussions on “the value of inclusion.” One theme that runs through the brochure is the link between inclusion and performance, a key to our Inclusion as the HOW® framework.

But the description for one panel discussion, titled “Strengthening the Diversity Pipeline,” poses the following questions: “Why are most efforts to build diversity into the pipeline still not working—particularly those aimed at boosting diversity in the boardroom? What more needs to be done to improve the pipeline…and ensure potential talent, from any and every background, is not overlooked?”

These questions point to a critical reality. In many organizations, the “diversity pipeline” is missing. They have no consistent way to move individuals, including their differences, up the organization (as opposed to simply asking them to assimilate), providing a wider diversity of leadership around the globe.

Still, our experience at KJCG tells us that we can address this issue more effectively by thinking of inclusion on a foundational level: not as a pipeline to be filled, or an objective separate from the organization’s mission and strategy, but rather as the foundation for everything the organization does. When all people in the organization feel included, heard, and seen as individuals—when they have a sense of belonging, and there is a level of supportive energy and commitment from people around them—they contribute more of their best thinking and their best work, and their leadership abilities become visible. There is no need for a specific pipeline because more people have more opportunities to emerge as leaders—and be recognized as such—just by operating in an environment of inclusion.

Several foundational elements can help to create this environment:

  1. A systemic “inclusion breakthrough.” Many of our systems conspire to keep people in boxes. In particular, our long social history has sorted people into hierarchies of difference, conferring privilege on certain “one up” groups and withholding those privileges from those who are perceived as “one down.”  An awareness of, and attempt to erase, these hierarchies can free people to bring their differences without fear and make their leadership capabilities visible.
  2. A joining mindset. Most of us have been taught to approach others through judging: evaluating them before we even consider trusting them. This creates distance between people in organizations and prevents them (particularly those in categories perceived as one-down) from contributing fully. A shift to a joining mindset, however, enables people to approach others as worthy partners who can add value, unleashing their ability to do their best work and exhibit leadership.
  3. Inclusive behaviors. Such behaviors (like our 12 Inclusive Behaviors below) are the concrete expression of the joining mindset. They remove obsta­cles to participation, create a greater sense of safety, enable trust, and facilitate “right first time” interactions. Individuals feel valued, respected, and acknowledged for who they are; they add their value to the organization and are more willing to give their thinking and their discretionary energy.


Such an environment of inclusion not only fosters leaders but transforms the way the organization works. Through Inclusion as the HOW, the organization creates a safe place for everyone to bring their uniqueness, including their differences. Their different perspectives (or “street corners”) are seen as an asset to the organization, and they are sought out for opportunities to make larger and larger contributions to the organization.

When linked with performance in this way, inclusion gives organizations a competitive advantage in a world that is getting smaller and at the same time more complex. In such a world, differences in perspective—which together produce 360-degree vision of any issue or opportunity—are needed more than ever. By contrast, sameness in thinking is just not good enough anymore.

More than in many conferences, the global leaders at the Summit understand the value of inclusion and now want to move the conversation forward. We are looking forward to hearing from them and taking our part in that conversation.