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A Brief Preview of Big Ideas on Diversity, Inclusion; Expert Shares Fresh Workplace Strategies in Monday's Session

What makes diversity and inclusion such powerful workplace strategies, and how can public transportation leaders think about these concepts in a new light?

Steven Robbins, self-described chief “what if” officer for his consulting firm, S.L. Robbins & Associates, Grand Rapids, MI, offers some powerful new strategies for examining diversity and inclusion from the framework of human behavior and neuroscience.

In an Annual Meeting General Session set for Monday, Sept. 12, titled “Your Brain Is Good at Inclusion ... Except When It’s Not,” Robbins will make the case that “diversity” (or lack of it) is not the problem; rather, the issue is individuals’ hard-wired bias to be ­cautious about unfamiliar people, places and things.

Passenger Transport
recently talked with Robbins about these ideas. Excerpts of the conversation follow.

Being a “what if” officer …
One of my main messages when I talk with people in the organization is to be open-minded, and one of the ways to practice open-mindedness is to regularly ask, What if? What if we thought about it this way? What if we see it from this perspective? What if there’s something else? So I made myself the chief what if officer to remind myself and others to practice open-mindedness.

Understanding diversity and ­inclusion as a human behavior …
The diversity issue for me is a human behavior issue, and as a neuroscience I look at it from a brain perspective. From a brain perspective, our brain is always trying to conserve energy. The places that it conserves the most amount of energy are in surroundings that are familiar, around things that are familiar, whether those things are people or ideas. And that’s what often leads us to exclude others who are not familiar or not like us.

Fostering a culture; optimizing performance …
Research that tell us that when human beings experience rejection or they’re not part of a group, they experience what’s called social pain, which is similar to physical pain because we use common circuitry in the brain to process pain. And pain, whether it’s physical or social in this case, is a distractor, and when people are distracted they don’t perform very well. They’re not as productive.

Tapping creativity and innovation …
Every organization is in the business of solving problems. For-profit organizations make more money when they solve problems better and faster than others. For not-for-profits and government institutions, they can serve their clientele, their people better when they can solve problems faster. How diversity helps with problem solving—I’ll put it very simply: The more and different ideas that you have, the greater the probability that one or a combination of those ideas will solve the problems you have. So when you’re excluding people who are different, you’re excluding their ideas. If the vast majority of people in your organization have similar experiences, they kind of come up with the same type of ideas. That’s why you want to have different types of people with different sets of experiences.
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