The Diversity Dilemma – Is Your Inclusion Strategy Inclusive?
The conversation surrounding diversity in the workplace can be a hotly debated topic and often one misunderstood. In the most recent issue of CSV Magazine, Taylors own People, Culture and Brand Manager, Andrea Crane, offers her insight to the discussion and shares why diversity needs to be a key business value.
See the full article below.
Approach anyone in the lunchroom and ask them what is meant by diversity in the workplace and invariably the response will be something that heads straight for the gender parity discussion. Ask about employer strategies around diversity and you will find an even more clunky conversation and uncertainty around organisational policy, culture initiatives and change.
This is the diversity challenge that has arrived front and centre for the SME within our industry, and like everything in an age of rapid-fire business disruption, no longer to be ignored.
The first step for us all is to acknowledge just where we are at in relation to the diversity journey. It is more than ok to say that we are beginners. That we don’t have the answers, that we don’t know what we don’t know, and that we have been at times nervous to make a move at all fearing the repercussions of making the wrong move. Going back to our lunchroom survey, you will usually find that despite the confusion, there exists among management and team members alike the desire to commit to positive change towards diversity, it’s just the ‘how’ can often remain to be seen. In fact, Diversity Council of Australia (DCA) stats tell us that at least 75% of our employees strongly support their organisation taking action to create a workplace which is diverse and inclusive. Add to this the DCA research finding that companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers, and it is clear that all of us are ready and in fact needing major change – a paradigm shift – in diversity perspective. Our people are interested, motivated and even passionate about opting in, and we know we need to provide a more diverse workplace environment for future proofing our people pipeline and our business bottom line, so why are we slow to get going? I suggest it is because we don’t exactly know where we are going. DCA research tells us that in fact 70% of companies believe that they are effective in attracting and retaining diverse employees, yet only 11% understand what it is. That is a wide gap to be bridged. We need to be able to clearly define just what diversity is and what it means within the existing framework of our own organisations.
I believe that to do this effectively, we need to remove the gender issue as the primary action point when it comes to defining a diversity strategy in the workplace. I am aware that many would be opposed to this, but I ask that you hear me out. As a woman who grew up with the gender bias of the 80s and 90s and through to today (experiencing everything from unconscious bias to outright sexism), and who is constantly horrified by the incidents of disrespect and violence against women in our community, I am not for one moment looking to take away from the gender parity agenda. This is a mighty challenge and calls for an acute response at many different levels which I support wholeheartedly and with great passion. However, when it comes to the broader concept of diversity, I think that when you choose to home in on just one cause you could end up not seeing the forest for the trees. The diversity waters can be muddied by a desire to settle the score or the tendency to over compensate for past and existing wrongs. You can lose sight of the overall goal and end up being less effective or even exclusive in your overarching diversity initiatives and outcomes. I don’t take away from the fact that there have been and still are great gender inequalities, but a focus on the equality score in the short term isn’t helpful in the longer-term new diversity paradigm we should all be aspiring to. Once we understand that our focus needs to be on ensuring that we have the right playing field, the score starts to take care of itself.
If we thought that defining culture within our workplace over the past couple of decades has been tough, defining diversity poses a similarly difficult task. There are many layers and levels to the workplace diversity discussion including everything from; fair treatment, equal access to opportunity, participation in teamwork and collaboration, organisational flexibility (responsiveness and agility), a consultative conflict resolution process, evidence of leadership understanding of and commitment to the concept, evidence of diversity at all levels of an organisation and amongst decision making stakeholders, providing diversity education and training to your team, to; a focus on creativity and innovation, and embedding the concept of diversity into your vision or mission, strategies and practices – and to leverage the effects of a diverse workplace to achieve a competitive business advantage. Interestingly, according to Deloitte, diversity is perceived differently by generations. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers view workplace diversity as ensuring fair and equal representation regardless of demographics, without necessarily considering its relationship with business results. On the other hand, Millennials and Gen Z view workplace diversity as the combining of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, and taking advantage of this to achieve learning and innovation, and ultimately stronger business results. I might be a Gen Xer, but I think the Millennials have got it right in terms of a more evolved way of seeing diversity.
It is widely recognised now that the diversity construct is best leveraged when developed alongside an equal focus upon the concept of inclusion, and hence the discussion is about the two as an intertwined concept. Whilst diversity is about recognising and encouraging differences within a group of people, inclusion is about everyone in that group of people feeling valued and being able to contribute their particular perspective and talent to the company goals and vision. It is only through inclusion that organisations can truly make the most out of their diversity. And when we talk diversity, we are referencing so many elements alongside gender. The DCA defines diversity as all of the differences between people in how they identify in relation to their Social Identity -age, cultural background, disability, gender, caring responsibilities, indigenous background, sexual orientation and socio-economic background, and their Professional Identity – profession, education, work experiences and organisational role. With such an array of unique experiences and perspectives to consider and nurture, it is easy to see how a focus in on one particular difference, (e.g. gender) does not provide for a wholistic outlook and platform for Diversity and Inclusion initiatives towards wholistic change.
It has been and is however a good place to start to practice your diversity behaviour. For me, a Diversity and Inclusion (D & I) platform should be based around the 3 key concepts of;
1. Breaking down barriers and removing obstacles
2. Creating opportunity to enable people, and
3. Empowering people to collaborate and contribute
If we spend our D & I time and effort in strategy around these key concepts, we will see the equality scores improving across the board in our workplace. The good news is that this Diversity and Inclusion paradigm shift is a much more comfortable platform because it focuses in on the whole and everyone being a part of it, rather than singling out minority groups for special or separate treatment. Affirmative action targets for instance can cause tension and a sense of exclusion which takes away from the positive diversity outcome they are seeking. Just as we talk about change being the only constant in our VUCA world, we can see diversity as the only commonality in our team of people. We are each of us unique and we are each of us in this together. Being united towards a common goal immediately relaxes us and allows for a more open discussion, and simply more discussion full stop. It is for this reason that I am divided when I hear about initiatives such as committing to having employees not attend seminars where there is no or minimal representation from female presenters. The intention is pure, and the motivation is admirable however there is a sense of discomfort around enforcement as a way of achieving change which can have some negative side effects for diversity aspirations, as opposed to enablement which is perhaps more difficult but can only have positive side effects for diversity aspirations. It is a choice that we are all encountering on this diversity journey and navigating as best we can.
I think that the best person for the job should always be there – but our defining of ‘best’ probably needs to change. We can enforce ratios which may or may not put the best person in the seat, or we can fall back on the old safe habit of defining the best person for the seat as the one who has always done it, the one who has the most knowledge and skill or the one who will make it the easiest for us. But does this put the best person in the seat? What if we looked at defining the best person through our new D & I platform glasses? The best person to deliver the presentation in your organisation might be the one who is very creative but doesn’t have great presentation skills so you might look to help overcome this obstacle. Or they might be a great presenter but due to carer commitments are not available on a Friday lunchtime when the regular presentations occur so you might look for an alternative opportunity. Or they might be the person who has lots of knowledge to share but sits quietly in the corner and doesn’t interact much based on cultural nuances. So, you might engage with them and help empower them to be part of the presentation contribution. These are very basic examples but I’m sure you understand my point.
Diversity needs to be elevated to be a key business value. Defining the best person for the job in your organisation should include looking at the team as a whole and asking how you can enhance your diversity pale. If you don’t have much of a mix you can’t expect to be as creative with your painting and I believe you will be in real danger of being left behind. “When we value workplace diversity and inclusion, we see benefits such as higher employee engagement, improved performance, greater innovation, retention of talent, improved employee wellbeing and lower levels of unlawful behaviour such as harassment and discrimination”. **
Diversity is not easy, and we are all on a challenging but exciting journey. At Taylors, we know that we don’t yet have many of the answers, but we are motivated to see just what potential we can unlock through a committed Diversity and Inclusion platform. We know it is central to achieving our vision for growth and embedding our values within our culture. It promotes our continual improvement, supports giving our people a more unique experience, and helps us harness the benefits of technology to improve the efficiency and quality of our services. I for one am very much looking forward to learning more, talking more, doing more and helping my organisation and our industry achieve more in relation to Diversity and Inclusion. If nothing else I hope these words encourage you towards similar thought and discussion to progress your own diversity journey, and I would welcome discussion at any time with business leaders who also find themselves navigating the diversity challenge.
** source: Australian Government Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Strategy 2016 -2019