Diversity and Inclusion; the pink elephant in the room
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been a hot topic in recent years due to many incidences. A notable example was when an employee at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two black men. They were arrested but upon investigation, it turned out that the men were simply waiting for a business meeting. Following a public uproar, Starbucks decided to close all its 8000 company owned stores in the US on May 29, 2018 for a ‘racial bias education day’. In recent developments, US President Donald Trump made a baffling call when he ordered federal agencies to stop racial sensitivity training, labelling them as divisive and anti-American propaganda.
What is diversity training all about? Why do we need to have a conversation about the pink elephant in the room? How do we make sure our diversity and inclusion efforts are in fact effective in the workplace?
Diversity and inclusion training is a form of education for employees to gain greater awareness of different people. These differences include and are not limited to religion, race, nationalities, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It aims to break down employees’ implicit biases to cultivate an understanding and inclusive environment. Implicit biases can be alarmingly insidious as they are stereotypes that affect our behaviour and decisions unknowingly. Examples include the halo effect, confirmation bias and affinity bias. In the US, diversity training zooms in on white privilege, critical race theory and the racist origins of the US. In fact, diversity training can cover a long list of topics.
Pic Cr: Freepik
Equity is removing systemic barriers that have resulted in disparate treatment.
As such, to combat the harmful consequences of implicit bias, education is warranted. Instead of avoiding the uncomfortable conversation, companies should tackle this topic head on. We need transparency in the workplace. It promotes a harmonious and tolerant workforce where employees are better able to engage with others from diverse backgrounds. For the underrepresented minorities, companies should establish infrastructural support systems for them. These help to eliminate identity threats where employees feel like they do not belong and can’t seem to be themselves at work. Employees will be more motivated, eventually boosting their overall performance. A recent McKinsey showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
In the end, the goal is about equity and not equality. Equality lies in treating everyone the same. On the other hand, equity recognises each individual’s unique challenges. From there, we strive towards removing systemic barriers that cause disparate treatment. Hence, the goal of diversity and inclusion should be equity rather than equality.
What can managers do to create a non-biased working environment?
Lead by Example
Firstly, lead by example. Be the first to address uncomfortable topics in your workplace. Talk about the underrepresentation of minorities in the office. This way, individuals who feel seemingly alone are encouraged to raise their concerns too. Taking the first step signals to employees that their inputs are valued and respected. Especially when discussing sensitive topics, their voice is heard and each individual is mindfully included in the conversation. Therefore, keep in mind to create an open environment where employees can be forthcoming and everyone feels a sense of comfort and belonging.
Pic Cr: Freepik
Support and feeling valued
Secondly, focus on feelings of support and value. Having formal structural support systems is insufficient. We cannot stop there. It is helpful on the most superficial and basic level but managers need to go beyond that. Official platforms in the organisation are targeted at different social groups as a whole. So, on a daily basis, managers should focus on connecting with individuals on their team. Talk to them to find out how they are feeling. Engage in genuine conversations with your employees so that they feel respected and valued in the community. Of course, it does not have to be a heavy heart-to-heart conversation. Rather, a simple chat to check in on their well-being would suffice and make them feel cared for. To reinforce inclusion efforts, formal and personal channels should go hand in hand to produce the best results.
Lastly, take a look at the 4E model by Mary-Frances Winters on how to become more interculturally competent.
Pic Cr: theinclusionsolution.me
For the first step, one must have exposure to difference. It is important to have instances in your daily life where you interact with people different from you. Winters even has a checklist exercise to find out how much exposure you experience normally. After that, the second step is experience. It is about making an effort to understand other cultures on a deeper and personal level through a first-hand experience. Then, we have education, which entails taking the initiative to educate oneself about other cultures, race and religion. An interaction with one individual does not give you a sufficient representation of their culture. Hence, it is vital not to form stereotypes based on a one-off experience. Instead, broaden your perspectives. Finally, these 3Es lead up to effectiveness in inclusion and diversity efforts.
Embracing diversity and being inclusive is not an overnight project. Just as racism, stereotypes and prejudices were cultivated over decades, it takes an equally long time to eliminate them. But, it does not mean it cannot be achieved. Keeping these points in mind, we can foster feelings of inclusion and belonging not only in the workplace but also in our entire community. If you’re interested, read more about coping with stigma in the workplace to understand more about its history and potential triggers.
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