Affirming deep diversity at Bain & Company

July 30, 2021 - 6 min read

Matthew Harris partner at Bain champion of deep diversity at work

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Use storytelling as a catalyst for change

Decrease the cost of candor

Create space for conflict

Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

Chinua Achebe

Now you might be wondering, what is deep diversity? In contrast to surface level diversity, deep diversity represents the unique aspects of a person that you cannot see, for example, religion, sexual orientation, family history, socioeconomic status... and how they interact within a person. This is also known as intersectionality. 

Affirming and celebrating deep diversity is crucial to creating an environment where all employees can thrive, no longer held back by the psychological burdens of masking to fit in with the crowd.

Matthew Harris, Partner at Bain & Company and LGBTQ+ champion, joined BetterUp for a live discussion with Tan France, star of Netflix’s Queer Eye, to talk about how we can create workplace cultures that embrace and celebrate deep diversity beyond Pride Month. Following are 3 key takeaways from their conversation. 

Use storytelling as a catalyst for change

For so long the stories of marginalized groups have been silenced. Creating a culture where deep diversity is affirmed and celebrated requires that we make space inside our organizations for the stories of marginalized groups to be heard, understood, and valued. 

At Bain & Company, this is a top priority. Matthew casually remarked  that “People at Bain are obsessed with getting to know each other.” This speaks to the value that Bain places on being able to express your authentic self at work. Bain will often hold events where employees are encouraged to share their personal stories with colleagues to increase awareness and understanding. 

Stories help us challenge the misconceptions and biases that hold us back as a society and keep us from connecting with one another. For Tan France, personal storytelling is a way to overcome stereotypes and spark compassion. By openly discussing his experiences as a person who is Muslim and queer, Tan hopes to inform others about his identity but also to inspire them to take the time to understand and empathize with the Muslim neighbors, the queer neighbors, and others we may not know as well.

“Hey, if you can like me as a Muslim, if you can like me as a person of color, if you can like me as an immigrant, imagine your neighbor's story — that person that you've chosen to never speak to. If I'm worthy of your care and attention, maybe they are too.” 

 Tan France, Star of Netflix's Queer Eye

Decrease the cost of candor

Creating an environment where people feel comfortable to freely express their true selves requires trust and safety — that isn’t built overnight. Historically, expressing one's deep diversity has been costly to marginalized communities, posing financial, emotional, and even physical danger. Matthew identifies leaders who have the courage to be role models of vulnerability as the most important creators of these safe spaces. When our leaders are willing to share their own deep diversity, we feel comfortable and confident sharing our own. 

Matthew intentionally chooses to express his deep diversity and be his authentic self even though it might at times feel safer to hide. He recommends the book “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights” for leaders who are looking to create this type of environment for their team but might not know how to express themselves after years of built-up defense mechanisms. At BetterUp, we have diversity and inclusion coaches that can help leaders develop an inclusive leadership style that fosters psychological safety. 

“As I was getting ready to come out I didn't realize this at all, but you actually have to come out almost on a daily basis for the rest of your life. From that moment, every time you encounter a new person.”

Matthew Harris, Partner at Bain & Company

Create space for conflict

One of the common misconceptions about creating a culture where deep diversity can be expressed is that it can be done with good intentions, a few training sessions, or a keynote event. The truth is, creating a culture that celebrates diversity takes time. There will be conflict. 

A culture of acquiescing is one that silences marginalized voices and creative ideas. We have to embrace and celebrate dissent while also providing people with the language and tools that they need to engage in productive conversations with respect and understanding.  

For Matthew, this is where BetterUp coaching has been beneficial. Navigating disagreements requires a skill set that takes practice and reflection. Coaching conversations provide a safe space to question and challenge our biases — the first step to overcoming them and transitioning towards productive disagreement. It increases the mutual respect we have for one another, and, as Matthew says, unleashes the true power of a diverse team. As we embrace our differences, we become more open-minded, inclusive, and resilient.

"I think a lot of the research will tell you that diversity drives to better answers and better solutions and better outcomes. It forces you out of your comfort zone. It makes you look at problems from a new angle. If you're not comfortable with conflict, that is a new behavior that you need to inject into the culture for the power of diverse teams to really be unleashed."

Matthew Harris, Partner at Bain & Company 

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Published July 30, 2021

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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