How Mindful is Your Diversity Strategy: 3 Paths to Focused Attention

Raising awareness in D&I isn’t a double-sided sword – it’s a light saber that can cut in any direction – including toward those wielding it. As we wrote in Awareness, we need to enable a shift from awareness to attention, similar to focusing your eyes just when you’ve been awakened. Especially if you’ve awakened to something that challenges you.

As written about by many and recently and compellingly by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, mindfulness strengthens the brain’s ability to focus on one thing and ignore distractions. “The neural circuitry for selective attention,” they write, “…can be trained – contrary to the standard wisdom where attention was assumed to be hard-wired and so, beyond the reach of any training attempt.” (Altered Traits, Penguin Random House, 2017). One study they note found a positive, if not permanent, effect on attention after only seventeen minutes of meditation training – and that for non-meditators. Improving the ability to focus attention has always been a goal of mindfulness, and Goleman and Davidson powerfully make the case. But what matter is that for D&I training, initiatives, or progress?

Many aspects of D&I require attention – your processes, including programs, policies, and practices and your people, including Board, leaders, and employees (if not also your customers). While attending to the processes is necessary, attending to the people is what makes the difference.

Organizations spend tremendous attention on both processes and people. A big opportunity, however, is to increase the attention capacity and skill within the people.

Attention Power – Flip It?

Mindfulness meditation is the first path to focused attention. The good news for training mindfulness meditation to business people is that, not only does it improve the ability to focus and sustain attention, it also improves working memory and the damaging impact of chronic multi-tasking. Integrating these skills into D&I curricula or offering them separately is necessary for effective D&I in that it helps people focus rather than “check-the-box” or ignore the uncomfortable realities that come to their awareness, not just to D&I but also other matters of ethics, compliance, product safety, etc.

In addition to mindfulness meditation there are other attention-enabling practices that may not seem obviously mindful, but are. One was created by Roche HR VP Kristen Pressner – “flip it to test it.”

Pressner created the ‘Flip It To Test It’ test after becoming aware that she, in her senior HR role, would, at times, treat men and women differently in the same situation. It’s a very quick test to bring attention to a real and immediate situation: flip the situation on its head, and imagine it in reverse, are you comfortable with it? Flip It To Test It is a simple-yet-powerful intellectual attention practice that can follow awareness and bridge to the compassion and non-judgment most people need to face and manage the unconscious biases we all have.

Beyond the immediate benefits to individuals in daily work, increasing the ability to focus attention has other D&I and business benefits. A more traditional mindfulness practice of attention is setting intentions.

The Attention of Intention

Broader and more meaningful than your typical goal, intention setting is often described as a means toward clarity of communication. As mindful lawyer and author Jeena Cho writes, however, it can also be a means of being in this moment with all else that’s with you in this moment – pleasant or not. As we write in Mindfully Mobile and Way of the Road Warrior, intention setting can be a life-changing practice, because:

  • Your intention is an attitude you choose to take about something, making it the only life force fully in your control.
  • Intentions – crafted or unguided – influence every perception, interpretation and response you have to whatever you perceive.
  • Intentions enable mindful action by informing the choice in the moment between perception and action.
  • An intention can shape a moment or an entire day; a daily intention practice can shape a life.

While the research is scant, in our experience we find intention setting has other tangible business benefits as well: more efficient meetings, more productive discussions, and more strategic as well as ethical decisions. In D&I, training people in intention setting is a powerful way to help them focus attention on the business and personal benefits they intend to receive from creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive environment. And it can also help people focus attention on the uncomfortable feelings and facts that come with increased awareness.

3 Paths – Pay Attention

Mindfulness meditation, Flip-it-to-test-it, and intention setting are three practices that, when practiced, increase capacity and skill in focusing attention in the multi-tasking, constant-demand world we face every waking moment. There are different ways to train these practices and nuances within each, and you must have people who know what they are doing working with people who know your organization. But, the exact path you train matters less than the discipline of staying on it.

Like any practice, the benefits improve with practice and decline without it. So training people in a a one-and-done mindfulness program works about as well as any other one-and-done training of any complex, behavior-change skill set. Don’t expect a silver bullet – mindfulness doesn’t solve everything. But it just might be the reboot your D&I strategy.

Join Marjorie Derven and me Thursday, October 26, 2017 2:00pm – 3:00pm EDT, for the ATD webinar “Can Mindfulness Reboot D&I?

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Author: Chris Altizer

Chris Altizer, MA, MBA, is a 30-year senior, global HR executive turned performance and wellness consultant. A certified teacher of yoga, karate, and diving, Chris and his partner Anne Altizer work with executives and teams to integrate performance and wellness.

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