Thursday, May 30, 2019

Diversity and Inclusion – Two Very Different Concepts

Guest post from Stephen Frost and Raafi-Karim Alidina:

To build an inclusive organisation, there are two main things you need
to do.  You need to de-bias the systems that run the organisation, such as recruitment, pay, procurement, talent management and marketing.  And you need to lead inclusively.  Whilst both are important, leadership is the cornerstone, without which all the diversity initiatives in the world will be in vain.

When we think about how to reduce unconscious bias in organisations,
we often think about systems and processes. We think about recruitment policies, or how we do performance evaluations, or flexible working arrangements. We anonymize CVs, do 360° evaluations, and make work flexibility the default. All of these techniques are extremely important in making the workplace more equitable. They help to level the playing field and reduce the risk that we are systematically favouring or penalising any particular group.

However, as important as these processes are, they are only one half of the solution.

Diversity and inclusion – despite that they are often discussed together – are actually two very different concepts.  Diversity is about the mix of people on your team or in your organisation.  Making sure you have the right policies in place really helps with this half of the equation.  It makes sure that a broad swathe of people apply, that marginalised groups are just as likely to make it through the application process as majority groups, and that everyone has equal opportunity for advancement.

Inclusion, however, is about making sure the mix of people we have works.  It’s about ensuring that no one, regardless of their background or identity, has to worry about hiding parts of themselves. In an inclusive workplace, everyone has equal opportunity and support to thrive.  While policies can help with this to some degree, the work of including people is mostly done through leadership.

The reason for this is that while policies can mandate the way we review applications, they can’t really mandate how we run a meeting, or how we create an organizational culture.  That culture is built through the behaviours exhibited by all who work there.  If people are making sexist or racist jokes or comments, whether in formal meeting settings or during casual conversations, that creates a less inclusive environment. It makes those people who are the butt of those jokes feel like they are misunderstood and that people will judge them based on stereotypes rather than for who they are as an individual and the work they do.

However, if employees and especially organizational leaders make a point of calling out these bad behaviours and holding offenders accountable for their actions, we begin to show members of marginalized groups that these jokes do not reflect the culture the firm is trying to create.

Calling out offensive behaviours is easy, though – it’s obvious and overtly discriminatory.  However, there are subtler behaviours that are key to creating an inclusive environment that leaders should embrace.  For example, we know that women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, and other members of marginalized groups are more likely to be interrupted in meetings and have their ideas attributed to other people (usually middle-aged white men). If leaders make a point of ensuring that interruptions aren’t tolerated, or that when a good point is repeated that they give proper credit to the original person who made the point, it would go a long way to making sure that everyone feels welcome at work.

It goes beyond the traditional protected characteristics as well – introverts and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, for example, often experience subtle behaviours that exclude them from bringing their whole selves to work and being their best.

To increase psychological safety – the feeling that it’s safe to contradict your boss, make mistakes, and dissent with decisions – leaders might consider having a dedicated devil’s advocate in meetings or including “rotten tomatoes time” in meetings where the goal is to poke holes in decisions or ideas that have come up. This creates a culture where disagreement and debate is welcome, and guards against blind spots and groupthink.

If you notice that some of your staff don’t speak up much in meetings, you might consider rotating the chair of the meeting to increase the participation of introverts.  Alternatively, you could send out questions with agendas in advance so that those who would rather think more deeply about their answers have the time to do so rather than simply reacting instinctually during meetings.

Policies and systems definitely need to be in place to ensure a diverse workplace – they help with recruitment and promotion, and ensure equality as much as possible.  But for inclusion, it is critical that leaders behave inclusively.  And when leaders set the example, their employees will follow. This is what creates an inclusive environment, and ensures that good people – regardless of their identity – can thrive.  As a result, those businesses will thrive as well.

Stephen Frost is co-author of Building An Inclusive Organization: Leveraging the Power ofa Diverse Workforce, and the CEO of the leadership consultancy Frost Included specializing in diversity and inclusion.

Raafi-Karim Alidina is co-author of Building An Inclusive Organization: Leveraging the Power of a Diverse Workforce, and a consultant with Frost Included, working with clients to help create more inclusive workplace cultures.

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