The Role of Diversity Intelligence in Change Management

Home » What is Change Management? | Definition, Principles, Process » The Role of Diversity Intelligence in Change Management

Image reads: The Role of Diversity Intelligence: An interview with Dr. Claretha Hughes by Cameron Conaway

In 2016, Dr. Claretha Hughes published Diversity Intelligence (Palgrave), a groundbreaking work that ushered the term into management and human resources lexicon.

The book’s subtitle, Integrating Diversity Intelligence alongside Intellectual, Emotional, and Cultural Intelligence for Leadership and Career Development, sets the framing: the three mainstream forms of intelligence (IQ, EQ, and CQ) only indirectly and inadequately brush up against elements of diversity.

Diversity intelligence (DQ) offers a lens through which the organizational challenges brought about by a lack of diversity and inclusion (including challenges at the personal and legal levels) can be directly addressed.

Today’s organizational leaders are often told that their company’s survival depends on their ability to disrupt it continuously. The underlying reasoning is that the only way to stave off a competitor from disrupting your company is to disrupt your company first. But there’s perhaps a more profound organizational truth in the concept of “incompletely decentering,” a concept Dr. Judith Plaskow wrote about in The Academy as Real Life: New Participants and Paradigms in the Study of Religion.

Plaskow describes the role of various non-dominant groups carving out places for themselves within the white, male, Protestant-dominated American Academy of Religion (AAR). With the addition of each new voice, one result was a continuous but incomplete decentering that allowed the AAR (and the dominant group) to take on a more complex and richly nuanced view of religion.

Many of today’s change management leaders are working on diversity and inclusion issues in their workplace, both because it’s the right thing to do and because nothing builds organizational resiliency quite like the continuous process of incompletely decentering. However, most of this work is based on gut and the often erroneous assumption that organizational change leaders possess high levels of diversity intelligence.

That changes now, if Drs. Claretha Hughes and Xinya Liang from the University of Arkansas have anything to do with it. They’ve built the world’s first diversity intelligence scale, referred to as the Hughes and Liang Diversity Intelligence Scale.

Dr. Hughes was kind enough to answer a few questions, so let’s get to it.

CC: Dr. Hughes, can you take us back to your early thinking about diversity intelligence? When did the idea emerge and how would you describe its development over the years?

CH: The idea of diversity intelligence emerged as I have described it in my work in October 2014. I was dealing with so much ignorance about diversity that I thought that there had to be a better way to deal with the lack of fundamental awareness of what not to do and say in the workplace. I was also looking for ways to measure my five values of people and technology in the workplace. The central question was: How can leaders value their employees if they do not see them or have marginalized them on the job? This led to my development of the construct of diversity intelligence. If leaders have diversity intelligence, then they will have no excuse to say that they do not see or claim that they have unconscious/implicit bias when ignoring protected class employees in the workplace.

The development of this construct over the past six years received a lot of push back in the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD). I think the push back was because I refused to submit the work under their marginalized section of Diversity and instead submitted it under leadership. I think the powers that be within AHRD did not want to accept this monumental change or admit that diversity is a leadership problem. I had to do the first presentation of the work in Cork, Ireland in 2015 because those affiliated with the AHRD would not accept the work in the United States. I made absolutely no changes to the submission, so it had to be the reviewers. I wrote the book on diversity intelligence in 2016 and began a Facebook group in 2015. I began developing the scale in 2016.

CC: Let’s talk about the Hughes and Liang Diversity Intelligence Scale. What is it and what does it measure?

CH: The scale measures knowledge, training and education in the workplace, and behavior of leaders. The knowledge portion is designed to determine if leaders truly understand the employees that they are leading from a diversity intelligence perspective. The behavior section assesses how leaders behave towards diverse employees.

CC: Can you describe the process of building the scale? What kind of data and methodology inform its current structure?

CH: The process of building the scale required obtaining responses to open-ended questions from workplace leaders. Those qualitative responses were analyzed to build the factors for the quantitative scale. The quantitative scale was piloted with a group of workplace leaders and then modified based on statistical analysis. The scale was then tested with over 1,300 participants to validate the instrument using both confirmatory and exploratory factor analysis. The results confirmed that the factors in the scale measures diversity intelligence of participants.

CC: Organizations spend billions each year on sensitivity training, pay equity assessments, and various other aspects linked with diversity. What are a few ways today’s change management leaders can incorporate your scale into their work? How might the scale either save organizations money or improve their spending on diversity & inclusion?

CH: They can use the scale to determine if their leaders are diversity intelligent with regards to protected class employees. They can determine from leaders’ responses if their education and training is perceived to be effective in providing the diversity intelligent information to leaders. They can begin to understand how their leaders perceive their own behavior related to diversity efforts. The organizations can save money if their leaders treat all employees fairly and avoid costly litigation related to discrimination. They can improve their spending by eliminating ineffective diversity and inclusion training and providing focused activities that directly impact leader behavior.

CC: Can you walk us through the pilot study? How was it conducted and what insights emerged?

CH: The pilot study was a Qualtrics administered survey. Insights emerged that allowed us to remove certain items from the instrument that did not directly measure diversity intelligence. Those items were important and could remain open-ended questions that organizations and/or individuals may want to understand but did not contribute directly to the measure of diversity intelligence. Removing those items strengthened the validity of the items remaining in the scale.

CC: The scale seems to have the ability to play a critical role from a legal perspective. Can you describe a few of the legal pain points around diversity in the workplace, and how the scale can help resolve these?

CH: All protected class groups and categories in the workplace are protected by federal law or Executive orders. Many organizations are sued because of violations of these laws. EEOC complaints are filed because of perceived discrimination and violation of these protections. From the open-ended questionnaire, it was revealed that many leaders of employees in the workplace did not know all the protected class groups and/or categories in the workplace. Not knowing does not protect the organization from legal liability. The scale will help leaders determine what they do not know about protected class groups and/or categories in the workplace and, hopefully, inspire them to think about their behavior when interacting with all employees in the workplace.

CC: Dr. Hughes, I was inspired by your quote about the scale’s potential, particularly around how the tool “…has the potential to promote social change and reduce workplace violence, micro-aggression and trauma.” As you see it, can you unpack the potential links between the use of the scale and both societal change and change at those micro-aggression levels within an organization?

CH: It is difficult for employees to separate themselves from their societal influences when at work. Understanding that every person in the workplace is protected by protected class group and/or category may help to eliminate the false narrative that one group is receiving something that others do not.

I use the term micro-aggression only because it is the acceptable term in much of the diversity literature. However, I do not believe that aggression is ever micro. Aggression always has macro impact. I think that many find training on implicit and unconscious bias acceptable because it counteracts the zero tolerance policies that many organizations have against discrimination. Being able to say “I did not know” eliminates the use of zero tolerance, but it does not protect the employee(s) who have been discriminated against. The scale will show whether a leader is diversity intelligent enough to know better.

Workplace violence, micro-aggression, trauma, and ultimately social change should begin to occur because leaders will know and understand that their behavior must change if they are currently exhibiting discriminatory actions towards employees in the workplace, and they will know when they observe it amongst their peers, subordinates, and even superiors both inside and outside the organization.

CC: Lastly, what’s next for the Hughes and Liang Diversity Intelligence Scale to further evolve as a tool and gain widespread adoption?

CH: The next step is further analysis of the work and marketing the scale to organizations who are ready to measure the effectiveness of their diversity efforts. If the structure and culture of the organization is not open to change, the resistance of participants can mitigate the effectiveness of the scale.


Keep Learning

Explore the deeper meaning of change management

Explore the deeper meaning of feedback