: Combining philosophy, science and education to create more diverse workforces.

Purpose: To move forward the discussion on how to use science, humanistic philosophy, and education to help workplaces reap the benefits of diverse workplaces while avoiding the problems caused by diversity.


This paper will discuss the benefits and challenges of employing a diverse workforce and discuss ways we can use behavioral science and humanistic philosophy to help businesses reap the benefits of a diverse workforce while avoiding the problems that arise when working with a group of diverse individuals, specifically focusing on how to use science to eliminate problems with discrimination, harassment and retaliation which make the creation of truly diverse workforces so difficult to achieve.

To successfully change corporate culture to be more inclusive, we need philosophy to provide people with adequate reasons why it benefits them personally to embrace a diverse workforce. This is a challenge that is best addressed through the use of humanistic philosophy. Once a work team has decided to embrace diversity, they then need to learn specific skills and techniques to defuse the conflicts that arise and how to effectively deal with harassment and discrimination so that all employees feel protected in the workgroup. These skills and techniques are best addressed by applying behavioral science techniques to the problem behaviors.


Diverse workforces benefit employers and employees[i], but attempts to create diverse workforces are hampered by a myriad of problems.

People coming from diverse backgrounds have different life experiences, different triggers, different world views, different assumptions and different goals. How we talk to one another respectfully and further, understand what is being said, is not always easy. We all have implicit biases[ii] that may prevent us from accurately perceiving the other person and their motives.

Our difficulty in seeing other people accurately and without bias is hampered by the fact that humans, as a species, are tribal animals. We instinctually feel safe around people we perceive to be like us and are frightened by those we perceive to be “other.” [iii] There are a variety of ways our tribal instincts can be triggered, but once they are triggered, creating a cohesive group out of diverse individuals becomes exponentially harder.

Humanistic philosophy can help us bridge those differences. It helps us bring the “other” person into a common tribe which helps us to override our tribal instincts so we can view the other person as “ethical.”  Humanism also provides us with a common moral language we can use to create consensus and resolve differences.
Diversity problems in the workplace manifest in a variety of ways and stem from a variety of causes. This is why diversity is such a “wicked” problem to solve.
A combination of humanistic philosophy and applied science can help us fix these problems so that we can reap the benefit of diverse workforces.

There are 3 major problems we need to solve to create diverse yet cohesive work groups. We need to hire more diverse workforces. We need to solve the problem of social exclusion that prevents diverse work groups from creating cohesion and leads to harassment and discrimination in the workplace. And we need to help people more effectively deal with and resolve disagreements so that our tribal instincts don’t kick in and turn what should be a rational disagreement into an irrational divisive conflict. 

The Challenge of overcoming implicit and explicit bias in personnel decisions.

We now know that our ability and willingness to hire diverse workforces is complicated by our implicit and sometimes explicit biases.[iv] We all have biases and that our biases impact our hiring decisions, firing decisions, promotion decisions and more. We cannot fix our diversity problem without better understanding of how implicit biases work so that we can take affirmative action and hire people we wouldn’t normally hire because of our biases. Otherwise biases will continue control hiring decisions and our businesses will suffer as a result.

Humanistic philosophy can help us work past our biases and science can help us develop techniques so that we can work to ensure our biases don’t negatively impact our personnel decisions.

The Challenge of Eliminating Social Exclusion

Social exclusion is the process in which individuals or people are systematically blocked from (or denied full access to) various rights, opportunities and resources that are normally available to members of a different group, the “ingroup.”

Social exclusion can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a result of bias, but it can also be a result of competition for resources in the workplace where individuals may dehumanize their co-workers through bullying, a technique that helps them gain access to resources and minimize the influence their target has in the workplace.

For example: social exclusion appears to be the main aim of workplace bullying or harassment. Evolutionary psychologists[v] have shown that bullying is adaptive behavior. Bullying can be thought of as a tool of group control.  People who can control access to a group through social inclusion and exclusion wield a lot of power.

Humans have an instinctual need to “belong” to ingroups and exclusion is felt as physical pain[vi]. Our instinctual fear of being socially ostracized allows bullies to manipulate group dynamics and control them. The bully might not be biased against their target, they are merely using the threat of social exclusion to control a group. They do this by marking their target tribally as “other” to encourage social exclusion of the target. Anyone who is perceived as different can be marked as “other” this way. Since no one wants to be excluded, our instinct is to seek inclusion in the form of currying the favor of the person perceived to have the power to include or exclude people from the group.

To create a diverse yet cohesive workgroup, social exclusion cannot be tolerated. The challenge is how to make social exclusion behavior stop. Currently 152 countries have laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Several countries and state jurisdictions mandate harassment training and yet, harassment and discrimination continue, and vulnerable people are excluded from our workplaces as a result. Laws prohibiting discrimination are not enough.

Solving this problem will require a combination of humanistic philosophy and behavioral science. Humanistic philosophy will help us resist efforts by bullies to marginalize and label people as “other.” Behavioral science will help us extinguish the unwanted exclusionary behavior. 

Scientists have known for decades how to stop unwanted behavior including exclusionary behavior, like bullying and harassment.  Specifically, the science of behavioral extinction not only explains why attempts to stop this behavior results in an escalation of behavior otherwise known as retaliation, but it provides us with the tools we need to get it to stop. We need to start applying these techniques to the problem of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace so that diverse individuals are no longer subjected to social exclusion in the workplace.

The challenge of De-Escalating Conflicts to maintain group cohesion

Diverse workgroups means that there is diversity of opinion. Problem solving is never an easy task. People with different skills sets, knowledge bases and experience, approach problem solving differently. This can lead to disagreements that if they remain unresolved, can cause conflict.
When we find ourselves in conflict our tribal biases kick in making resolution of the disagreement harder. Unfortunately, some people have learned that if they use bullying and/or aggression to stigmatize the other person, it increases the chances of their viewpoints being adopted. This technique, while a successful strategy for the person employing it, negatively impacts the problem-solving process and is experienced as harassment and discrimination by the person on the receiving end of this sort of bullying behavior.

Thomas and Killman describe five approaches humans take to resolving conflict.[vii] Two of these approaches are considered counterproductive. The three remaining ones form the basis of most of the advice on how to resolve conflicts.

The first step in any conflict management program is to attempt to get both sides to see each other as part of the same tribe so that the tribal aggression and defenses that are preventing rational discussion from taking place are eliminated. Humanistic philosophy is essential to this effort.
Humanism can also help us develop communication strategies to help us find common ground in the problem-solving process and to resolve disagreements by using a shared set of values and moral approach.

Science should also be employed. We can use the same behavioral techniques we use to eliminate bullying and harassment to de-escalate conflict behavior to set the stage for humanistic communication strategies to take root. We can also use what is learned from sociology on group dynamics and decision making to help us better manage disagreements so that they don’t devolve into conflict. The goal is to help teams focus on collaborative problem solving as a team instead of allowing the team to fracture into warring tribes.

Transformative approach

Philosophy on its own is not enough and science on its own is not enough. Combining philosophy, science and education can create positive social change in corporate culture

Humanistic philosophy helps us tweak our thinking so that we can overcome our biases, see our colleagues as members of our in-group/tribe and encourages us to be compassionate and patient with them when disagreements arise. It also provides us with the motivation and the knowledge we need to resist attempts by bullies to manipulate us through social exclusion.

Science can provide us with a complimentary toolset needed to resist our biases so they no longer control our decision making processes. We can use behavioral science strategies to establish new cultural norms that reinforce respectful behavior in the workplace and collaborative problem solving. We can also use behavioral science to help eliminate social exclusionary behavior that prevents diverse work groups from becoming cohesive.

A holistic approach that combines the best of humanistic philosophy with applied science can help us transform our approach so that the promise of social inclusion becomes a reality.


[ii] Greenwald et al (1995), Implicit social cognition: Attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes.  Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1995-17407-001
[iii] Daniel Druckman (1994), Nationalism, Patriotism, and Group Loyalty: A Social Psychological Perspective. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/isr/article-abstract/38/Supplement_1/43/1813806
[iv] Catherine Ellis (1994), Diverse approaches to managing diversity. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hrm.3930330106/full
[v] Kevin MacDonald (1996) What do Children Want? A Conceptualisation of Evolutionary Influences on Children's Motivation in the Peer Group. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/016502549601900105
[vi] G. Novembre, M. Zanon, G. Silani. (2014), Empathy for social exclusion involves the sensory-discriminative component of pain: a within-subject fMRI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/10/2/153/1652379  
[vii] Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann (2015), An Overview of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI). Retrieved from http://www.kilmanndiagnostics.com/overview-thomas-kilmann-conflict-mode-instrument-tki

1 comment:

  1. Yeah in theory - but in the real world you may not find the talent to fit into your diversity game plan.


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