Egon Zehnder
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Great expectations

How the cultural shift toward deeper diversity can succeed

In today’s broader understanding, true diversity is a diversity of perspective, and inclusion is what puts diverse perspectives to work in everything from making better decisions to tapping into diverse markets to fostering innovation. Yet despite the almost universal acceptance of the business case, even extremely well-intentioned companies often run into great difficulty when it comes to walking the talk. In what follows, the authors explore the obstacles that stand in the way of progress and they offer some proven principles and practices that can help make genuine diversity and inclusion not just a professed value but an operational reality.

In the famous Oak School experiment conducted in the 1960s, psychologists led a group of teachers to believe that certain students were likely to be showing signs of a spurt in intellectual growth and development. In fact, the students had been selected at random, but at the end of the school year they showed greater gains in IQ than did those in the control group. The experiment is the classic demonstration of the self-fulfilling prophecy – that what we expect of other people is what we will get.

Also known as the “Pygmalion Effect,” after the George Bernard Shaw play in which a poor flower girl is transformed into a lady through the expectations of Professor Henry Higgins, it cuts both ways. People of whom less is expected perform worse than they might have otherwise. The phenomenon was later documented in management by Dov Eden in Pygmalion in Management, and a variant of it, called “priming,” was given wide currency by Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

Read full article Great expectations in THE FOCUS edition on “Diversity and Inclusion”. This article was co-authored by Michel Deschapelles, formerly with Egon Zehnder (2007-2014).

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