By: Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski |

We are delighted to introduce Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski as our guest blogger this month! She has been doing amazing research around Virtual Distance and today she is sharing her insights through a Diversity and Inclusion lens.

Diversity is top of mind for many in today’s organizations.  Some academics talk about “surface diversity” which refers to attributes such as gender or race.  Others talk about “deep diversity” meaning the extent to which people have differing sets of values or points of view.  Both are important.  Yet many see surface diversity as the main issue while in fact, both are crucial and interrelated.

The most common area of diversity discourse is around cultural diversity.  With global workers coming together via virtual communications, cultural training programs have skyrocketed.  Based mainly on the Hofstede Model, a cultural variation framework initially developed in the 1970s by Gert Hofstede from IBM to help expatriates better integrate into overseas communities, many people in the 21st century are trained to understand others through those same demographic differences. For example, people from the West tend to be characterized as “individualistic” while people from the East tend to be seen as “collectivist” in nature. While generalizations are often useful in understanding a larger context, when it comes to understanding individual human beings, demographic differences at a national level may or may not have anything to do with an individual’s point of view or how they feel about things.

In today’s global workplace 20% of people are likely to never meet their boss.  In fact, many people who work together generally speaking, may never meet each other at all.  Therefore, if all one has to go on is a general understanding of nationalistic characteristics that may or may not apply to any given individual, then we are likely creating stereotypes that then create bias which go on to fuel more diversity issues when in fact, we are more likely to be similar than different at a human level.

And it’s not only cultural differences from a geographic point of view. Organizations and subsets of organizations have their own cultural dynamics no matter where people come from therefore diversity can be problematic for those used to in-group habits that exclude the out-group.

However, in a world where cultural differences prevail as the major frame for understanding how to work better together in diverse environments there is a big problem that is also an invisible one:  When communications are mediated via electronic smart devices, we don’t even know what we don’t know.  In other words, we can’t see the details nor do we usually think to ask about them on a regular basis when it comes to how a person sees the world or the context in which they frame a problem.  This is not an issue of cultural differences, it’s an issue of Virtual Distance.

By understanding that Virtual Distance plays a measurably significant role in the way we internalize diversity itself and how we adapt and accept others who, on the surface may seem different but are actually very similar on a human level, we can make a big difference in effectively expanding diversity initiatives.  In fact, when Virtual Distance is reduced, trust increases the most – helping people to accept one another for who they are versus what they seem to be.  There is a direct correlation that’s critical in building a feeling of sameness and shared values – key to diversity initiative success.

For more information on Virtual Distance go to: Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski and The SMART Workplace team are putting our heads together to come up with something amazing! Stay Tuned!