11/28/2014

Expanding the Scope of Diversity in the Workplace

Fred Keeton, chief diversity officer and vice president of external affairs for Caesars Entertainment delivered keynote speech at Johnson’s 2014 Diversity Symposium

by Sherrie Negrea

Diversity once focused on bringing underrepresented groups into the workplace, but today it has evolved into a strategy that embraces different types of cognitive abilities among employees to drive better business outcomes.

Fred Keeton, chief diversity officer and vice president of external affairs for Caesars Entertainment, urged a group of Johnson students, prospective students, and faculty to broaden their definition of diversity at Johnson's 2014 Diversity Symposium. "Stop just attaching it to protected class issues and think about it in terms of business issues," Keeton said in a keynote speech at Sage Hall on Oct. 24.

When companies include employees with different cognitive abilities on teams, for example, it can lead to better business outcomes, Keeton said. But companies that have nontraditional biases and judge employees based on their cognitive skills, such as having a predisposition to being action-oriented, become locked into following orthodoxies, which prevents innovative thinking and decision-making.

This pattern can result in employees feeling overconfident and lead to poor business decisions, Keeton said. But by including diverse employees on teams, companies can avoid creating a "fixed capacity mindset" that doesn't empower employees from giving honest feedback.

One solution that can move decision-making forward is to encourage employees to ask questions across functional roles and geographic locations. In addition, employees need to talk "across silos" and formalize this process, which may also yield more diverse viewpoints, Keeton said.

 "What we're talking about is using diversity to make sure you make the best decisions as we go along, rather than waiting until the end," Keeton said.

The goal in creating effective teams is to "get outside your group" and bring in diverse employees who collectively can solve complex business problems, Keeton said. "The farther you go out to bring different people in and put them on your teams and look at issues, the more likely you are to get to a breakthrough," he said.

Caesars Entertainment, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in 2013, has formalized this approach toward diversity and inclusion by creating Diverse-by-Design teams to work on specific projects. This allows the company, which has 68,000 people worldwide, to create what Keeton called "a solid-line connection between diversity and business outcomes."

Keeton, who grew up in Mississippi as the youngest of 11 children, said that when he has spoken about the need to recognize cognitive diversity at the National Press Club, Boeing, and Kaiser Permanente, he has drawn criticism for his approach.

"What I'm saying to you is not that you throw the baby out with the bathwater," Keeton said. But after ensuring that members of protected classes are reaching the top levels of management, he said, companies need to move to the next step. "Are we just going to say we are culturally competent and sound and have a nice organization or are we then going to use that to drive the outcomes? That's what this is all about, and that's the challenge."


Expanding the Scope of Diversity in the Workplace
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