Emerson Exchange / Asset Management

Leverage diversity in a technical world

Groups with higher diversity are shown to perform better on problem solving for complex tasks

By Paul Studebaker, editor in chief, Control

CG1310 emerson show

Look around you. Traditionally a white male dominated world, the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in general, and the process automation profession in particular are seeing increased participation by people of a variety of shapes, colors and inclinations. There are good reasons to nurture this trend toward diversity, and to help build inclusive work environments to take full advantage of it.

"Diversity is the mix, inclusion means allowing them to work well together," said Nikki Bishop, director, global turnaround program, Emerson Process Management. Bishop joined Sara Hough, automation engineer Shell, and Brian Atkinson, consultant, industry solutions group, Emerson, to present the session, "Closing the Gap: Methods for Leveraging the Power of Diversity in a Technical World" at the Emerson Global Users Exchange 2015 this week in Denver.

It's not just about being nice. Studies show "Groups with higher diversity are shown to perform better on problem solving for complex tasks," said Hough. "Corporations with at least two women on the board outperform others with no women on the board, especially during economic downturns. And inclusion is positively linked to innovation and helpfulness among team members in studies of different cultures around the world."

Raise Diversity

Surveys show that 85% of executives of large global enterprises believe diversity is essential to fostering innovation in the workplace, 79% believe that diversity initiatives have a positive effect on company culture, and 83% agree that a diverse workforce improves their company's ability to capture and retain a diverse client base. And companies with a high rate of racial diversity rack up 15 times the revenue increases of companies that do not.

Diversity includes the familiar sexes and races, but also differences in thinking styles, language, ethnicity, religion, perspectives, experiences, nationality, job level, culture, skills, physical abilities, sexual identification and age. In today's diverse society, companies that fail to raise diversity risk stagnation and groupthink. And those that raise diversity without inclusion risk unhappy, isolated workers with high turnover.

There's plenty of work to do. Women and most minorities are underrepresented in engineering in relation to their percentage in the U.S. population. "Women make up 50% of the population, but only 12% of STEM jobs," Hough said. "African, Hispanic and native Americans add up to 30% of the population but just 10% of STEM jobs."

Studies show we all have biases. In studies, identical resumes for a lab manager position with a "male" name were ranked higher for the position than those with a "female" name. Studies using "white" vs "black" names give similar results. And when they were chosen, female candidates were offered 11-15% less money by professors at research institutes.

Work on inclusion

When women were asked why they left the STEM field, "hostile macho culture" ranked second, behind only "working conditions/extreme work pressure." Even a 1% bias towards promoting men drops the percentage of women reaching the upper tiers of management by 30%.

"People take less than seven seconds to size up and form an opinion of a stranger," Hough said. "Your biases lead to reactions and behaviors that can be beneficial, for example, if they prepare you for a punch to the gut, but can be harmful if they lead you to react inappropriately to others' words or behaviors, or to unfairly manage their performance."

To change, first strengthen your "emotional intelligence," said Hough. "Learn how to react to your emotions and the emotions of others around you."

Atkinson suggested mentoring someone different from you. "I had always worked with male interns," he said. "We hired a woman, and mentoring her was much different. I learned a lot." We all want to work with people we can relate to, with shared experiences and cultural references, but finding a shared connection with someone different opens doors.

Strive against bias

Use the "ouch" technique, recommended Hough. "When you see someone perpetuate a bias, just say, ‘Ouch,'" she said. They'll probably ask you why you said that, and you can have a conversation. "We started using it around the plant and even a refinery situation, where you would expect everyone to blow off that diversity stuff, it works."

As a society, we're making some progress. "Our children are more accepting of diversity, and expect it in the workplace," said Bishop. "To attract them, we need to change." Get involved. Be part of diverse groups, participate in company activities that cross conventional lines, such as cookie bakes, and join in community events that allow you to join more diverse groups.

"It's the right thing to do, and simple techniques can make a big difference," Hough said. Diversity and inclusion lead to better business results. It builds stronger companies and organizations that are better at innovation and solving problems, and better places to work.

Free Subscriptions

Control Global Digital Edition

Access the entire print issue on-line and be notified each month via e-mail when your new issue is ready for you. Subscribe Today.

controlglobal.com E-Newsletters

Biweekly updates delivering feature articles, headlines with direct links to the top news stories that are critical to staying up to date on the industry — company news, product announcements, technical issues and more. Subscribe Today.