Diversity Performance Factors (DPFS)™: A Paradigm for Performance and Transformation

Michael L. Wheeler, 
Diversity Works

I believe Diversity is the most important organizational and people performance factor of the 21st century. In a world that is inexorably intertwined and interdependent as never before, Diversity is a fact that results in unique dynamics with direct implications for – and impact on – productivity, efficiency, creativity and innovation, product development, customer satisfaction, competitiveness, sustainability, profitability and shareholder value. By understanding what I call “Diversity Performance Factors (DPFs)Ô” we can proactively, systematically and tactically enhance performance for individuals, teams, organizations and even nations. And, by doing so, we can also effectively build Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Presented herein is a paradigm for performance, definition of DPFs and a process model. All are based upon decades of first-hand personal and professional experience, observations, application, centuries of credible research, insights from various fields of study, and the influence and wisdom of people, practitioners and thought leaders.

A Diversity Performance Factors (DPFs)™ Paradigm for Performance

In my research report, The Diversity Executive: Tasks, Competencies and Strategies for Success, Yvette Bowden, former head of United Airlines, captures the essence of the paradigm perfectly: “Diversity is a value stream that impacts every way you do business and interact with people. When we say ‘strategic’ it has to do with work processes open to Diversity, not just a Diversity process.” (See exhibit X)

In this paradigm, rather than focusing on DEI processes (still important—but engaging a different way of getting there) the organization is your template and the various value streams your guides. Each and every facet of the organization – goals, objectives, functions and roles, processes, policies and practices, divisions – represent those value streams and all have specific DPFs relative to how they are shaped and influenced and for overall effectiveness and goal achievement.

Santiago Rodriguez, former head of Diversity for Apple and then Microsoft once posed the following question to me in the early 1990s: “How does difference — or absence of difference — affect our design of products, our marketing of services and our customer satisfaction?” Drawing upon the inspiration and example, I once posed similar questions to a team while reviewing workforce composition data (i.e., EE01): “Do we have the diversity on this team to drive innovation?” and “Do we reflect the people we serve and have the insights we need to serve them effectively?” The subsequent conversation was powerful; it created awareness, understanding, action and commitment in new ways. What was historically a compliance conversation turned into an innovation, sustainability and competitiveness conversation. A slight shift in perspective sometimes has a much more powerful way of engaging people and building a sense of urgency.

What Exactly Are DPFs?

DPFs are mostly already known factors relative to dimensions of diversity (e.g., race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual identity, etc.) that either inhibit or enhance performance. Anyone who is or has been personally and/or professionally limited – or perhaps provided opportunities – because of who they are have experienced either the positive or negative sides of DPFs. While these DPFs have direct and indirect impact on the success of individuals and groups, they also have direct and indirect impact and consequences for entire organizations and what those organizations do, seek to accomplish and how they do it.

Historical and Current DPFs that are Barriers to Performance:

The following list is only a sampling of the many historic and current facts that I consider DPFs.

It is important to understand what is common across dimensions of diversity and what is unique to different groups and individuals. One must always be cognizant that no individual is one-dimensional – we all identify, and are often defined, by race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and identity. The artist Frida Kahlo once said, “Sexism and racism are parallel problems. You can compare them in some ways, but they’re not at all the same….” Take the concept of “intersectionality,” as an example. Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, explains: “Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

DPFs That Are Enablers and Performance Enhancers: There are foundational, fundamental DPFs that apply to anyone and everyone and some of those are truly universal. Respect, for example is a universal performance enhancer. According to Christine Porath, co-author of the Harvard University study, “…no other leader behavior had a bigger effect on employees… Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback — even opportunities for learning, growth, and development.”. Simply ask employees how being respected or disrespected affects their performance and commitment. They will tell you. Respect is a DPF.

“Micro-Affirmations” are universal performance enhancing DPFs too. MIT’s Mary Rowe, who coined the term and concept explains, “…if I try always to affirm others in an appropriate and consistent way, I have a good chance of blocking behaviors of mine that I want to prevent. Many micro- inequities are not conscious—but affirming others can become a conscious as well as unconscious practice that prevents unconscious slights.” Sometimes, as in the case of doing one thing – like micro-affirmations, negatives like micro-inequities are mitigated. Get people doing the positives. Consider, too, another DPF and a form of equity – the “Platinum Rule,” treating others how they want to be treated recognizing not everyone is the same.

One of the most powerful ways to identify performance enhancers in any organization is to ask a team of diverse stakeholders “What words describe a workplace culture that enables and enhances performance?” Or, one might ask, “What does a culture of innovation look like?” Or, more specifically, talk with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and pose the question, “How can we ensure the full inclusion and success of African Americans or LGBT or People with Disabilities?” Then, one can ask for practical examples with a question like, “What does it look like when we are doing that?” I always ask, “What can we do now? What can you do now within your power and sphere of influence?” A proactive approach – seeking solutions engages everyone is solving problems, not just naming them. Of course, action must be taken.

Proaction and Specificity

The martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said, “Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Willing is not enough. We must do.” It is not enough to raise awareness and understanding – it is imperative to act and to do so proactively. DPFs are always at play in “every way does business and interact with people,” and we must always be diligent to ensure we mitigate – eliminate when possible – those barriers and build in performance enhancer DPFs. Proaction is simply defined as “ action that initiates change as opposed to reaction to events.” The following exhibit provides some examples of typical barriers (DPFs) that get in the way of innovation, for example. It also provides interventions (DPFs) that enable and enhance creativity and innovation.

Changes in behaviors can be powerful and far reaching – but they are not enough. Diane Richler of Catalyst explains: “Inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures which exist in our societies; it is about transforming those systems and structures to make it better for everyone. Inclusion is about creating a better world for everyone.” The DPFs paradigm and process is focused on transforming systems and structures and doing so in timely, tangible ways.

Specific DPFs need specific solutions for specific individuals and groups with interventions in processes, policies and practices. There is a treasure trove of research and resources relative to specific addressing the issues, needs and opportunities for addressing those relative to dimensions of diversity. Much of that information is free and readily available online. There is too much to include here – but consider some of the following (the tip of the iceberg):

  • Women – Catalyst and Mercer
  • LGBTQI – HRC and Out & Equal
  • Black/African American – Executive Leadership Council, Urban League
  • Hispanic/Latino – Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE)
  • Religion – The Tannenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding
  • People with Disabilities – National Organization on Disabilities

An organization may not be able to eliminate systemic racism, for example, but there are very tangible and specific real-time ways organizations and people – through interventions in policies, processes, practices and people behaviors can mitigate systemic racism within the organization while also having a potentially positive influence on doing so outside the organization.

The Diversity Performance Factors (DPFs) Process Model

The six step Diversity Performance Factors (DPFs) Process Model is designed to address root causes of DPFs and systematically, yet relatively simply, guide stakeholders in identifying the negatives and the positives while also determining the interventions needed to mitigate or eliminate the negatives while reinforcing and maximizing the positives.

Core Tenets of the Paradigm and Process Model

There are ten core tenets of the DPFs Paradigm and Process essential to driving transformation and enhancing performance.

  1. Diversity is integral to everything and influences effectiveness and outcomes
  2. Goal Clarity Specific to Context (e.g. Organization, function, role, mission, vision) – Know where you want to go
  3. Context Matters – Build an understanding of how barriers and enablers have an impact on vision, mission, outcomes, roles and functions and processes and people.
  4. Engage Stakeholders – The People with Disabilities Community has a motto “Nothing about us without us.” This applies to anyone and engaging stakeholders’ results in practicing inclusion and ensuring critical perspectives are present.
  5. Simplicity Amidst Complexity – The number of issues alone can be overwhelming, but a systematic approach to identifying and understanding them brings simplicity to the complexity. Like treating people with respect, sometimes the simplest actions can have big impact.
  6. Be explicit, be specific – to context, and to DPFs. Generalities do not result in targeted, purposeful problem and solution identification.
  7. Minimize the negatives, maximize the positives – Begin simply with minimizing negative DPFs with interventions and reinforcing and building positive DPFs.
  8. Equity & Inclusion
  9. Measure what matters
  10. Proaction – Proactive measures can happen now for immediate, short-term and long-term performance enhancement. One does not have to do everything but do something.

Simplicity Amidst Complexity

The power of the process is that the impact team is comprised of stakeholders discussing real goals and objectives within the context of the organization and what those stakeholders do every day. The following exhibit shows a variety of elements that could comprise each step of the process.

Any discussion of issues and consequent interventions and defined outcomes must consider the following elements:

  • Intra-personal — We all have “World Views” and personalities, psychologies and identities that shape who we are and how we think and act with regard to ourselves and others. The Galatea Effect (another DPF), for example, “is a phenomenon where people’s own opinions about their ability and self-worth influence their performance.” Sometimes it is important to help people see their own self-worth and to overcome their unconscious biases about self.
  • Interpersonal — Think “dyads” and “triads” and dynamics between two or three people. Power structures can start here, and biases can be reinforced and shaped here too. Beliefs and behaviors can positively or negatively influence someone else’s success. The Pygmalion Effect, or Rosenthal effect (DPFs) for example “refers to the phenomenon in which the higher the expectations placed on people — often students, employees, children etc., the better is their execution of work.” Micro-affirmations can support and enhance lives and careers.
  • Team and Group — Consider group dynamics. There is a wealth literature on the topic. Who is listened to? Who is included or excluded? Is the group diverse? Are all stakeholders engaged? Think power structures. Are race or gender dynamics at play? Is diversity valued and respected? Pay attention to group dynamics relative to dimensions of Diversity. Some simple team building – always with diversity in mind and action — can make a big difference in performance. Go slow to go fast!
  • Organizational — Organizational culture, norms, power structures, processes, behaviors, reward structures, policies, politics and practices all have a role relative to Inclusion, exclusion, marginalization, disparities and preferences and represent DPFs on a variety of systemic and behavioral levels. We need to address unconscious bias in our systems and processes as much as we need to do so in behaviors.
  • Socio—Political — Laws and legal systems, educational and government structures are loaded with DPFs that often result in disparities across communities. Our organizations are microcosms of the world around us so what happens in the world influences both the workforce and the workplace. Corporations have taken a stand at times with Amicus briefs to address inequities socially and politically.
  • Industry and Sector — Hospitals are unique from Start-ups and Government agencies; educational institutions and corporations are all different and require different interventions and even language use. While DPFs are universal, there are also contextual DPFs that shape and determine effectiveness and outcomes depending on the industry and sector. “Cultural Humility,” (a positive DPF) for example is being widely embraced in healthcare and seen as “Moving beyond culture competency to cultural humility acknowledges patients’ authority over their own lived experience….cultural humility goes even deeper. It requires you to step outside of yourself and be open to other people’s identities, in a way that acknowledges their authority over their own experiences.”
  • Functions and Roles — HR, for example, has DPFs implications at every touch point — recruiting, retention, development, training and beyond. For R&D there are implications relative to product development and innovation and the teams that comprise the function and beyond. For manufacturing there can be DPFs relative to safety, quality control, productivity and supply chain. We DEI professionals need to engage much more specific roles and functions outside of HR. Think R&D, Finance, IT, and so on and so forth.

A simple process with these key areas in mind helps tackle complex issues in real, practical and tangible ways.

In Conclusion

A simple paradigm shift in how we think about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and how we think about performance systematically and systemically can make all the difference in the world relative to impact and outcomes. The beauty of a stakeholder-engaged process is that responsibilities are shared and defined. Hence, there is no need for a “business case” to be made when stakeholders engage in the conversation relative to what they do and are responsible for very day. Participants become more aware and informed with greater levels of understanding into DPFs and how they affect people, groups, teams and the organization. They often have the answers. Individuals and teams establish goals and objectives and build mutual accountability in the process and are able to act in real time to make a difference.

Wheeler, Michael, “The Diversity Executive: Tasks, Competencies and Strategies for Effective Leadership,” Research Report, The Conference Board
Wheeler, Michael, “Diversity: Business Rationale and Strategies,“ Research Report, The Conference Board
Crenshaw, Kimberlé “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politic,” University of Chicago Legal Forum, Volume 1989, Issue 1, Article 8
Porath, Christine, “Half of Employee Don’t Feel Respected by The Bosses,” Harvard Business Review, November 19, 2014
Rowe, Mary, “Micro-affirmations & Micro-inequities,” MIT, 2008
Devadason, Louisa, “Diversity Management: How Can Leaders Foster Meaningful Inclusion?” July 17, 2018, Leaderonomics.com
Babel, Jyoti, “Know the Right Difference Between Galatea and Pygmalion Effect” https://psychologenie.com/difference-between-galatea-effect-pygmalion-effect
McGee-Avila, Jennifer, “Practicing Cultural Humility to Transform Healthcare,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Culture of Health Blog, Jun 21, 2018, rwjf.org