The Three Paradigms of Equality & Diversity

At a recent NHS Employers Conference, there was a brilliant session given by Professor Robin Ely from Harvard Business School.  Her session was powerful and thought-provoking.  This post is my attempt to share the three equality & diversity paradigms that she presented at the conference:

1)      Discrimination and Fairness Paradigm

The motto behind this paradigm is “We are all the same, differences do not matter”. There are top-down rules that order such organisations; there is pressure to assimilate.  This isn’t pleasant for any of the staff, who may feel alienated as a result and subsequently restricts productivity.  In a way, it is undermining.

2)      Access and Legitimacy Paradigm

This paradigm is the one that we usually use when presenting the business case for diversity in the workplace.  It’s about differences emphasised, but not used as leverage.

Diversity in this paradigm is used to connect with clients:  it is a resource.  However, as a result, careers are marginalised.

3)      Integration and Learning Paradigm

The philosophy behind this is “we are the same, with our differences not in spite of them”.  Perspectives and experiences are shared and with this paradigm, diversity is a resource for learning.

Differences are acknowledged and their value recognised.  Cultural competences are learned and shared.   It informs and enhances work through experimentation.

The most powerful point to this paradigm is that progress is measured by the power of traditionally under-represented groups to change the organisation. In this way, it delivers on the “promise of diversity”.

But this paradigm is more than just “talking about our differences”.  It is where differences are embraced, discussed and disputed. Without doubt there is more conflict in this paradigm, but in a constructive way.  And these need to be managed well, with honest discourse, greater courage to have conversations about unfamiliar situations, and the ability to resolve conflict swiftly and sensitively.

So that is our challenge as managers: moving to a paradigm where diversity is used as a learning resources.  And as Professor Carol Baxter said at the conference:

“We can experiment, we can take risks,  so we can learn how to get it right”


One comment on “The Three Paradigms of Equality & Diversity

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karen Wise, Kenexa HR Institute. Kenexa HR Institute said: RT @KevinJBall: RT @karenwise: Brief summary of Robin Ely from HBS's research into E&D #hr #diversity #yam […]

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