Updated: Feb 25
Much is made of diversity and inclusion in the workplace development arena.... but are we 'doing' diversity and inclusion right? Are we truly making attempts to develop equitable organisations that embed diversity, inclusion and equity.
For most organisations, on some level or another, diversity and inclusion is about showcasing diversity, as if it were part of some fashion show runway collection!
It involves 'celebrating' people of different backgrounds and initiating programmes and activities to show that the company means business.
A deeper look however, shows that things may not be as they seem.
Whilst leaders actively 'promote' diversity and inclusion, it does not appear to be taking shape across the senior levels of their organisations.
This is quite telling!
There are several reasons why diversity without inclusion does not work. These can be seen in the results of diversity initiatives that are often described as 'piecemeal'
Some of these are highlighted below:
1. Lots of diverse people in an organisation, but very few, if any, in leadership positions
2. Decision making processes are the preserve of homogeneous leadership, and lack creativity and innovation that diverse groups bring to the table.
3. Leadership has little understanding of cultural needs and believe that they are treating everyone fairly.
4. An abundance of activity around inclusion, for example for 'Pride' and 'Black History Month' whilst employees complain of lack of inclusion and understanding
5. An diverse employee base that does not feel like they belong
6. The development of products and services for a homogeneous group, with little or no understanding or attempt to market based on the needs of diverse groups
7. A website that depicts the true nature of the organisation, through images of leaders from a homogeneous group that is lacking in diversity.
Equity can only be truly realised if it is part of the fabric of an organisation. True diversity, is nothing without inclusion.
Very often, the true nature of an equitable and inclusive organisation can be seen at the top of an organisation, through its characteristics and behaviours.
When Diversity Fails to become Inclusive
Hiring for diversity is somewhat of a fashion at the moment. Organisations steadily seek to hire people from different racial and cultural background and women, in a quest to appear more inclusive.
The reality however, for many, is that once the recruitment drive is over and the diverse faces appear, often on the company website or on social media, for the purposes of showcasing, that's the end of it.
So what we have, is words, with very limited action. Action to get people in, but very little to develop equality through inclusion.
Inclusion should not stop once the recruitment process ends. In fact, hiring is only the start of the journey!
Diversity comes with a host of business benefits but it is essential that organisations are genuine about increasing diversity to deliver on an inclusive agenda.
If they are not, then employees, recruits and stakeholders to the business will soon realise that efforts to support diversity and inclusion are without strategy and the results will be poor.
This can be damaging as it serves to maintain the status quo, and further marginalises employees. When new recruits are taken on, they will soon realise that the job advertisements and nice words around diversity and belonging, were merely for promotional purposes.
This will lead to increased absenteeism, high rates of staff turnover and reduced productivity. In many instances, it can lead to discrimination cases being brought against the organisation and bad publicity.
Why is Equity important in the Diversity Agenda?
An equitable organisation seeks to attain inclusion in order to make diversity valuable. It values difference amongst its employee and customer base.
Many organisations seek to increase diversity without acknowledging the impact that equity and inclusion make to processes, that support better decision making, recruitment and retention and the effective management of projects.
Whilst increasing diversity is important, without ensuring inclusion, diversity initiatives are doomed to fail.
This is because merely increasing numbers for the sake of promotional value doesn't actually change behaviours, that will support diversity or, in fact, inclusion
The key learning point, is that ....It's not just about the diversity.
There are several ways that organisations can add value by ensuring that diversity initiatives are equitable and add value.
Below are 7 key areas for consideration:
1. Ensure that an overarching strategy is in place that not only promotes diversity but adds value through inclusive processes.
2. Look at leadership - If your leadership is not diverse and inclusive, what messages are you really sending about authenticity around diversity
3. Promote diversity and inclusion as a business benefit... not just to showcase diversity as an 'in thing'. People are wise to that.
4. Develop an understanding of different cultures. Talk to the people that you hire and learn how to create a sense of belonging for everyone.
5. Are you processes set up in such a way that everyone, no matter their background. has a fair chance of succeeding, in your business.
7. Monitor and evaluate diversity and inclusion regularly. What gets measured is more likely to get done.
A key focus on diversity, without considering equity and inclusion, will lead to problems. Leadership must be accountable for ensuring that diversity and inclusion strategies are aligned to, and scope for, the maximum amount of equitable benefit, for employees and other stakeholders.
This supports, not only an increased sense of value for employees and stakeholder, but also impacts on positive brand image.
The difference here, is that positive benefits are derived by scoping inclusion, rather than considering diversity as a primary focus of the agenda.
Getting it Done... Not one and Done!
Activities to increase diversity and build inclusion should not but undertaken without a well developed project plan that is aligned to the strategic development of the organisations.
Many times, diversity and inclusion is an 'add on' to the corporate agenda, in an attempt to secure 'quick wins' for promotional gain. This is a mistake.
Diversity and inclusion must be at the heart of corporate activity and internalised by an organisational culture change process to drive equitable practices.
Equitable practices that define fairness and inclusion within the diversity agenda within the workplace, is the only way to increase and develop and retain diverse talent.
This goal to promote defined equity, must be embedded into the goals and regular achievements of leadership.
This will not only promote inclusion, but add value through strategic alignment with the goals and objectives of the business.
It should be valued as a key component of business excellence and should be part of leadership development and business growth strategies.
Inclusive goal setting, must form part of leadership objectives to enable workplace equity. It is through these leadership objectives, defined by a c-suite commitment to true diversity, that equitable workplace environments will develop.
Equitable strategies to embed D&I into the heart of the operational framework, are far more beneficial than activities for showcasing.
The fact is when an organisation is doing it right, there is little need for showcasing, as the world will already know your name!
A one and done approach, i.e. hiring one of this background and another of that, does nothing to promote diversity, inclusion or equity.
Rather, it highlights the fact that leadership within the organisation, does not value difference, in the way it is attempting to suggest!
The future is NOW
As organisations attempt to remain relevant in ever changing, uncertain business and political climates, there has never been a better time to embed diversity and inclusion as a way of future proofing your business. Making committed investments into diversity and inclusion, help to develop not only your business results but increase your business profile, in the marketplace.
Gone are the days when an organisation could arbitrarily set up an initiative, without scrutiny from the outside world. Your leaders, your organisation and your products and services are a matter for concern in this, the new technological age.
Getting the 'likes' is great, but what are your likes for. If you truly desire to change the face of the organisation, then it starts with leadership.
In order to truly promote diversity, its more than trying to achieve likes through promotion.... its about quality.
There can be challenges with diversity and inclusion promotion. Inclusive rhetoric, that merely promotes diversity, without being back-up by inclusive practice, can backfire.
Advertising a position for a job opening will lead to clicks on a corporate website, where leaders will be scrutinised, social media pages analysed and decisions be made.
While pictures of diversity on a website are great, what messages are they sending about your business. Visible diversity is good, but lets not be fooled, its about much, much more than that.
What is your organisation doing, in real terms, to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.
Are you showcasing, or are you making real authentic decisions about becoming an organisation that exemplifies difference, as a key component of your business?
Learn More: Effectively managing diversity can be a business boon for your organisation.
Learn More: How to develop a joined up D&I Approach.
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