Staffing Management

Old School Diversity Doesn’t Work; New School Diversity Does

By Susana Rinderle

Dec. 7, 2016

If 2016 brought us anything, it’s the death of the status quo. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that those of us who have a progressive vision for the workplace — and humanity in general — must change our tactics. Evolutionary leaders committed to increasing diversity, equity and inclusiveness in American workplaces aren’t exempt. Nothing less than a safe, abundant and mutually prosperous future is at stake.WF_WebSite_BlogHeaders-12

One tactic that needs to change is how we think, speak, and act around diversity and inclusiveness. Voices that have been emboldened by President-elect Donald Trump, plus a series of articles published this summer in the Harvard Business Review, are the most recent jury that’s delivered a landmark verdict: “Old school” diversity approaches don’t work.

“Old School” Diversity doesn’t work because it:

  • Focuses primarily on what I call “the Skittles Approach” — increasing the numbers of underrepresented groups (especially people of color) to create a more colorful rainbow.
  • Defines no clear, meaningful goals or specific outcomes (beyond changing racial or gender demographics).
  • Conducts its main activities around compliance with various laws, regulations and industry- specific requirements.
  • Outside of compliance, is mainly motivated by social justice values, or a desire to look good or “do the right thing.”
  • Can have a “charity” feel since it’s oriented toward helping members of certain groups — usually historically marginalized groups like women, people of color, LGBT and/or people with disabilities.
  • Includes an often unspoken belief that investing in diversity and inclusion means sacrificing quality and excellence.
  • Promotes initiatives owned solely by one area or department (typically HR or a dedicated diversity office).
  • Promotes initiatives with no accountability and limited power to effect meaningful change.
  • Pays little to no attention to developing leaders or creating a great culture.
  • Involves training that provides awareness and knowledge, but no skill building or clear, actionable takeaways.
  • Explores the cultural or intercultural dynamics of human difference devoid of power relationships.

However, “new school” diversity does work, because it:

  • Focuses on attracting more members of strategic underrepresented groups plus creating an inclusive culture where everyone can bring their brilliance and excellence to work (and without which diversity alone can impede progress and diminish results).
  • Defines measurable outcomes that are mission critical.
  • Conducts its main activities around reducing the unintended effects of individual and systemic biases; developing leaders’ ability to make effective, equitable decisions; and creating an inclusive culture where brilliance and excellence thrive.
  • Is mainly motivated by meaningful, high-stakes business goals which either solve an existing pressing problem or take the organization from good to great.
  • Recognizes and demonstrates that a diverse, inclusive environment includes and benefits everyone.
  • Understands and leverages the extensive research showing diversity plus inclusion increase quality and excellence.
  • Requires that diversity and inclusiveness results be owned by senior leaders in all areas including finance.
  • Holds all leaders and employees accountable for diversity results and inclusive behaviors.
  • Views developing effective leaders and creating a great culture as top priorities for senior leaders, and acted on as integral to the organization’s success.
  • Involves training that provides skill building and clear, actionable takeaways that are reinforced and hardwired in daily operations.
  • Explores and navigates the cultural and intercultural dynamics of human difference within the context of unequal power relationships in the organization and society at large

Management guru W. Edwards Deming once said, “Learning is not compulsory. Neither is survival.” To survive we must adapt to new information and new realities.

Just as it’s clear (in dozens of studies) that New School Diversity works, it’s clear the Old School way has outlived its usefulness, and we must evolve. Courageous leaders and visionary organizations are already evolving, and leveraging the brilliance and excellence unleashed by a commitment to New School Diversity.

Are you ready to join them? Share your success stories and questions below, and let me know how I can help you get there! #NewSchoolDandI.

Susana Rinderle is president of Susana Rinderle Consulting and a trainer, coach, speaker, author and diversity & inclusion expert. Comment below or email



Susana Rinderle is a principal consultant with Korn Ferry, and a coach, speaker, author and diversity & inclusion expert. Comment below or email

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