The Biggest Obstacle to Diversity: The Knowing and Doing Gap

I have hundreds of conversations with managers and employees around diversity and inclusion issues every year. One of their most frequent questions is “What is the biggest barrier to diversity and inclusion?” The answer is “the knowing and doing gap.” We know a lot about diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, like most of the world, we don’t do a lot about diversity and inclusion. We talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.

How did the knowing and doing gap become the top obstacle to diversity and inclusion? It all begins with our brains. The acquisition of knowledge is essentially a left brain function where we make most of our decisions. It is also the part of our brain that controls rationality, discipline and practicality. It is the slowest part of our brain, makes up only 10% of our gray matter and sleeps when we do. On the other hand, the right side of the brain houses our emotions, imagination, creativity and unconventional behavior. It is awake when we sleep, takes up 90% of our brain and is the faster part of our brain.

When we are confronted with diversity and inclusion in the form of recognizing and embracing differences, our left brain readily embraces the concept in the form of policies, procedures, programs and the right thing to do for ourselves, colleagues and the business. But when are challenged to do diversity and inclusion, our right brain is triggered which governs our perceptions, beliefs, biases and our historical behavior which does not have a good track record when it comes to recognizing and embracing differences. Since our unconscious brain drives most of our behavior, we miss the opportunity to actually do diversity and inclusion because we never get to the implementation phase.

Here are some of the right brain questions that might have entered your mind when it comes to risk taking and doing diversity and inclusion: (1) I am probably going the get this all wrong; (2) I don’t know if I can handle this challenge and (3) I will put this off until another day. Your inner critic dominates the conversation.

Here are the questions we should be entertaining: (1) What is the worst thing that could happen? (2) What is the cost of me not doing anything? and (3) What are the small steps I can take do to at least move in the right direction? Your inner champion is now doing the talking.

Here is where the brain can actually save us. By deliberately taking risks and habitually recognizing and embracing differences, the brain produces myelin- a fatty insulation around nerve fibers that make electrical nerve signals in the brain more efficient. Habits are transferred from the conscious part our brain to the unconscious part of a brain where they become part of our everyday routines.

This entire article was a left brain exercise in knowing diversity and inclusion. As I close these comments, let’s get our right brain in gear and start doing diversity and inclusion. A volatile, uncertain, constantly changing and ambiguous world is waiting for us to get started.

Disclaimer: This blog is written by Richard Regan in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Internal Revenue Service, or the United States government.

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Catherine Andrews

Fabulous and thought-provoking contribution on an important topic. I especially loved this paragraph: “(1) What is the worst thing that could happen? (2) What is the cost of me not doing anything? and (3) What are the small steps I can take do to at least move in the right direction? Your inner champion is now doing the talking.” Let’s all hope our inner champions can do more to focus on diversity and inclusion in meaningful ways.


I really enjoyed your post – thanks for sharing your thoughts! I think this is a topic that we don’t have enough meaningful conversations.

richard. regan

I appreciate your thoughts. These conversations are almost always difficult ones. We need to get better at leaning in to the discomfort if we truly want to build organizations where everyone regardless of their differences can meet their full potential.

Jerome Jackson

Is there anyone interested in a DCA training in Denver? I work work BOR and we need approx. 30 employees total for FranklinCovey to host a training here. We currently have approx. 15. I do not think there is a limit. Anyone have a contact number or ideas?

Jodi Swanson

So I love that you are doing this article and I am actually working on this exact thing (I&D and how your brain side effects it) at work. In the absolute nicest and kindest and respectful way I want to challenge you :-). Can I do that and still be friends? Hey – they say that is a key to a good marriage :-). So I feel that it is actually the left brains that struggles with inclusion and diversity. Why? Well…because I&D pushes that extrovert button and that can be a massive challenge for introverts (often left brained) to overcome. Right brains (Me, shocker, I know) tend to build off what is around them, they actually seek out diversity for inspiration and ideas in their projects. Okay, I’ll stop there. But thanks for writing this.