Diversity in the workplace

Why it is an uphill battle?

In recent years, diversity and inclusion have become veritable buzzwords around the world and with good reason. Most people seemingly understand the concepts of equality and diversity, yet there is growing polarisation, in the digital/tech world as well as the physical world, which is being fuelled by our conscious and unconscious bias. These previously overlooked and under-discussed disparities in society have been brought to the forefront, in the midst of an ever changing world, with the #MeToo movements, Black Lives Matter, political changes such as Brexit and the global surge of immigration.

To satisfy the widespread appetite to learn more about diversity, reports are continually being published about the lack of representation of minorities and women in the business world; making businesses eager to resolve these issues. Statistics show that a diverse workplace results in a more profitable, more effective and more successful organisation. However, diversity in the workplace is often misconceived as relating to just multicultural matters, when in fact it applies to sexuality, age, ethnicity, race, language, background, education and so on. Simply put, companies need to hire a broad range of individuals, going far beyond just their diversity in appearance.

Diversity without equality and inclusion is deficient. Successfully building diverse teams in the workplace cannot be achieved without embracing inclusion. That means ensuring employees feel included in their team, safe in the knowledge that they have equal opportunities to be heard and succeed in their work; through from the hiring process to how they are trained, evaluated and promoted. Achieving inclusion in practice is far from easy. Company policies, procedures and strategies need to be reviewed and sculpted.

It begins with the mission and deeply held core values of the company, to focus on inclusive infrastructure, community outreach and internal connectedness. It goes without saying that being mindful of your own biases within the company and adopting inclusive hiring practices attracts the best talent. No organisation wants to target a limited group of customers belonging to one culture, ethnicity, gender or age, but if the people pitching the ideas and designing the product are the same, there are slim chances that it will resonate with millions of people around the world. Besides, you can’t anticipate the diverse needs of global customers without having diverse employees and an exchange of ideas. Simply put, the coexistence of people with different cultures, personalities, ages and skillsets leads to innovation.

Diversity and inclusion do not only bring a wider talent pool but also lead to other benefits, such as better problem-solving methods. Think of it as a scavenger hunt; will you find more success if everyone is going in the same direction, or will you gather better information more quickly by having teams split up strategically? The idea of bringing new, unpopular opinions and perspectives into your company can be intimidating for some, but when you foster a culture of mutual respect, transparency and openness, diversity is no longer alien; it becomes the norm.

In the pursuit of a diverse and inclusive company many CEOs and managers make the fundamental error of failing to understand the biases of their existing employees, the day to day experiences of minorities and the limitations of their own workplace. Not too long ago, a racial bias in technology was reported when an automatic soap dispenser would not trigger for a dark-skinned black man, but it worked fine for his light-skinned friend. Such design flaws reflect a major issue hidden behind the veil of biases in our community and the solution is not as simple as the symbolic hiring of diverse individuals to ‘tick a box’ without recognising their true value.

The fact that most of the leaders and decision makers that ‘borrow’ or ‘copy-paste’ a strategy to champion inclusivity and diversity doesn’t necessarily mean they themselves come from a diverse background. It is as simple as this; it’s not enough to pass women protection bills and laws about sexual harassment among women without there being female representation in the legislature itself. Similarly, a policy isn’t good enough simply because the devil is in the detail. Ultimately, you have to walk the walk and entertain significant changes in leadership. You have to give a voice to others, enabling them to at least have a conversation. To embrace the changes in our world you have to invest in new technologies to reduce bias, whilst at the same time conquering internal resistance, through training and continuous review of company values.

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