The Conference Board uses cookies to improve our website, enhance your experience, and deliver relevant messages and offers about our products. Detailed information on the use of cookies on this site is provided in our cookie policy. For more information on how The Conference Board collects and uses personal data, please visit our privacy policy. By continuing to use this Site or by clicking "OK", you consent to the use of cookies. 

18 Apr. 2019 | Comments (0)

The path to elevated Diversity and Inclusion results requires us to navigate complex terrain.

In day-to-day D&I work, we address a wide range of shifting stakeholder priorities and needs. This difficult work is complicated by problematic patterns in how D&I is envisioned, resourced, undertaken, and supported (or not) within many of our organizations. More broadly, our ability to deliver results is challenged as socio-political and cultural debates rage over the value of this work and even D&I’s underlying philosophy.

The stakes for getting D&I right are high, both for organizations and individuals. Unfortunately, many of our familiar D&I ‘best practices’ are inadequate amid ever-evolving demands and complicated contexts. To advance D&I outcomes, we need next practices.

But how do we get there?

A particularly compelling way to create the bold, new D&I practices we need is to set aside some of our traditional assumptions and practices as we listen to those most impacted by our D&I strategies. Insights from 250 executives at a Conference Board meeting in May 2018 indicate that there is growing consensus that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our D&I ‘customers’ or ‘users’. Reporting on outcomes of this meeting, Charles Mitchell, Mary Young, and Amanda Popiela write in The Future of Work that organizations must become “obsessed” with their users, always asking: “Who is my user?” and “What does my user need?” Design thinking, they observe, can help HR and D&I professionals ask these questions and co-create relevant responses.

Overview of Design Thinking

Design thinking is both a mindset and a method to create fresh solutions to difficult problems. In an in-depth study of design thinking in complex environments, Stefanie Di Russo describes how this approach has expanded beyond the domain of product design as leaders across functions and industries have started to ask:

What could our products, processes, approaches, or services look like if we built them around what the user really wants and needs?

To help answer this question, design thinking is organized around three core principles. As detailed by Di Russo and others, design thinking is:

1.    Human-centred. Focused on human minds (both thoughts and feelings) and addressing human issues, design thinking guides us to develop empathy around the practical relevance and emotional resonance of a solution for users. As Jon Kolko explains, this approach offers a valuable alternative to a traditional utilitarian focus in product and service development.

2.    Multidisciplinary, collaborative, non-linear, and iterative. As IDEO emphasizes, we don’t engage design thinking simply by inserting user data or creative activities into traditional decision-making. Design thinking is a different way of approaching problems and building solutions. Specifically, it guides us to reframe a challenge and engage collaborative, rapid ideation to answer that challenge. As teams draw on a combination of disruptive, creative, and analytic tools to build prototype solutions, they follow a non-linear, iterative process including ongoing refinement that continues through testing and implementation.

3.    Devoted to addressing difficult issues. Design thinking is not for tackling minor problems. It is reserved for big, complex, and ambiguous challenges, such as many of those faced in D&I.

Companies take a range of approaches to integrating design thinking into their organizations. As described by Sabine Junginger in Design in the organization: parts and wholes, those with internal design thinking expertise might engage this approach via a special team or integrate its principles directly into the core fabric of the organization. Those without existing experts often engage external partners to help them address a particular need. The right choice depends on each organization’s context, strategy, and resources.

Design thinking can help us advance D&I

In an environment where business needs and expert opinions tend to dominate decision making, design thinking refocuses our attention on the unmet needs of those impacted by our work: our D&I ‘users’. And it provides a distinctive, collaborative way of building new solutions. This shift in focus, participation, and process can help us achieve new, more potent and relevant D&I practices.

Certainly, this approach is not magic, nor is it a panacea. As Di Russo explains, “Design thinking is only as good as its implementation and can only be measured by its outcomes and applications.” Just as critically, this approach requires sufficient organizational investment and commitment to the on-going steps necessary to bring promising new ideas to life.

Those who are willing to commit to this process have a pivotal opportunity. Recognizing that we are smarter together, design thinking helps us engage the power of collective creativity as we negotiate D&I’s difficult challenges and boldly move forward to results that matter.

Look for an upcoming second post in this series. Part 2 describes how to integrate diversity and inclusion principles with design thinking. This creates a path to pursue innovative strategies that can deliver sustainable D&I results.You can also learn more in Design the Future | Breakthroughs with Diversity, Inclusion and Design Thinking.

  • About the Author:Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a Senior Fellow in Human Capital and Program Director, providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. Rebekah supports a broad spectrum of D&I …

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


0 Comment Comment Policy

Please Sign In to post a comment.








    Support Our Work

    Support our nonpartisan, nonprofit research and insights which help leaders address societal challenges.