"women playing basketball"Forty eight years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and despite four decades of affirmative action initiatives, equal employment opportunity mandates and countless diversity inclusion training programs, boardrooms and senior leadership conference rooms according to diversity pioneers Judith H. Katz, PhD and Frederick Miller remain 95% White and male. Last month the Wall Street Journal reported that there are only 35 women CEOs in Fortune 1000 companies.

There is no denying that prestigious titles that come with high paying salaries bring with it certain unspoken privileges, but for members of disadvantaged groups, it also brings unspoken subliminally interpreted bias. Diversity has many dimensions but race, gender and age are probably the most predominant. The question of leadership development and how well underrepresented groups are treated in the corporate environment probably starts with how our brain processes data. The brain is a large data storage bin and with limited information on any group, such as Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, Lesbians, Disabled Veterans, etcetera, it processes the data it has and categorizes people within a group as one.

This process in the field of psychology is known as cognitive categorization and makes the issues of diversity and leadership very complex within the workplace. On the surface cognitive categorization is not racist, sexist or insidious; the dangerous aspect comes into play when mental categorizations are used to prevent hiring and promotions, derail careers and make negative assumptions about individuals based on group categorization.

These are multilayered, complex issues that must be discussed because dimensions of diversity matter but according to Katz and Miller, they matter less when brought out in the open and discussed. Contrary to what we tell our children and what we want to believe, people are not blind to differences nor due do we live and work in bias free environments.

One of the ways to minimize cognitive categorization is to develop culturally diverse activities outside the workplace. If more people of diverse backgrounds socialize outside of the work environment, they would come to see the totality of the human being and no longer evaluate or judge one another through a bias lens. Notice that the President plays basketball with men of diverse cultures and backgrounds. These men from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures, call each other friend and genuinely like and respect one another.

Outside socialization gives people the opportunity to get to know one another and have fun without feeling forced or pressured to do so. So I say, hey Mr. President, where are the female basketball players? Were any invited to play? By the way, isn’t his friend Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education? Another benefit to external socialization is its great networking properties.

The problem of the diversity inclusivity dilemma becomes more apparent when you consider the data. In 2011, according to the U.S. Census, 36.6% of respondents checked minority, which is 114 million people. That percentage is expected to continually climb. Diversity inclusion is certainly a leadership challenge related to organizational growth and change because it limits how an organization hires and utilizes talent and makes the most of its workforce, and with the workforce consisting of a large population of minorities and women, this lack of inclusion will increasingly impact a company’s bottom line.

This separate and unequal corporate environment is part of America’s cultural landscape; past and present forces have shaped racial identification; cognitive processing, socio cultural in-group/out-group status and working relationships. Race, gender and age are prominent dimensions of diversity but diversity inclusion is about accepting people regardless of how they self identify or what personal idiosyncrasies or uniqueness they have—think Garcia on the hit television show Criminal Minds. Don’t judge talent by the package it comes in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, a quarter of the labor force will be baby boomers, those 55 years and older; therefore, the age dimension of diversity is something that will have to be addressed.

Diversity inclusive practices is a challenge for organizational growth because in order to achieve a work environment where all people feel that their differences are valued and respected, takes an entire organizational paradigm shift. Sigmund Freud proclaimed that we are not the rational rulers of our lives but are under the influence of unconscious forces of which we are unaware.

Leaders may not be acting with malicious forethought but in subconscious ways which are guided by internal and external social cultural influences. This is why it is critical that companies be willing and prepared to evaluate, assess and change their infrastructure, i.e., management practices and behaviors, human resource policies, and rewards, the systems that supports, validates and encourages the organization’s exclusive culture. This takes time and considerable effort.

The challenge for senior leadership is to understand in a work environment that has limited talent resources and more global competition than ever before, there is a huge need and big profit in being able to utilize a broader pool of skills, talent and perspectives that reside within the organization.

The research has spoken and diversity inclusion practices increases employee morale, lessens turnover and lawsuits, improves promotion and retention rates and improves a company’s public image. Talent management officers should address how diverse talent is being utilized, managed, mentored and groomed to succeed. How well an organization grows and develops is in large part determined by how well an organization uses its human assets.

Talk to me and let me know how you have been able to overcome some of the challenges surrounding diversity inclusion. Follow me DGSBlogger on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/DGSBlogger