The Daily Record: Diversity — an issue of insiders and outsiders, consultant says

By Tim Curtis

October 21, 2019

Corporations should think about the business case for inclusion and diversity, including the potential of lost worker productivity, Steve Robbins told Baltimore business leaders as the keynote speaker at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit.

Robbins takes a science-based approach to diversity and inclusion and uses neuroscience to demonstrate how biases form and how to overcome those biases.

Dr. Steve Robbins and Don Fry

Dr. Steve Robbins (left) and GBC President & CEO Don Fry

“I’ve been doing this work a long time. I still have the gut reaction. I can’t stop it,” he said. “What I can do, and what I have trained myself to do is this: Pause. Pause before I let the gut reaction take control of my next set of words or reactions.”

Robbins is a former professor at Michigan State University who has built a business as an expert on building diversity and inclusion at firms including Coca-Cola, Disney and Walmart.

He approached the audience Monday by seeking to break down inclusion — not along racial lines or gender lines, but along the lines of insiders and outsiders.

Our brains have evolved naturally to prefer insiders, people who are like us, to outsiders, people who are different from us, he said.

“Every diversity issue is an insider or outsider issue. And if you start to use the terms insider and outsider, it actually makes the conversation a little easier,” Robbins said. “All of us has experience with both conditions. Each one of us knows what it’s like to be an insider and each one of us knows what it’s like to be an outsider.”

Sometimes that can cause rejection of outsiders for no reason other than that they are different, whether it be skin color or tattoos.

But as organizations build diverse workforces, it is important to be inclusive, Robbins said, because the pain of social rejection and exclusion has a cost.

Multitasking does not exist, Robbins said. Instead the brain switches rapidly between activities, but it is also less efficient when it does this.

The pain of social exclusion and rejection is another task that the brain cannot ignore, and it can make workers less effective by about 20-30%.

“It’s a lot of money, but none of my clients have the social pain of outsider-ness as a line item on the expense side of the ledger,” Robbins said.

Robbins was the keynote speaker for a day that also included smaller sessions on building diversity.

“I think a key ingredient for success and one of the key issues people need to be paying attention to in the corporate world deals with diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “I think that that’s a central element of what all corporate leaders need to be working towards to improve and all of us in our personal lives. By doing this, we highlight a number of issues, and they are important for the business community.”

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Source: The Daily Record