How might we fully leverage the value proposition of diversity and inclusion?
The narrative about diversity seems to be driven by gender diversity only. It’s even more than that. In many organizations, gender diversity is discussed as a binary concept: man vs. woman. I am sure that I am not the only one who sees overrepresentation of women-focused, single-minded initiatives. How about other aspects of diversity? This is not a cutting edge observation or breakthrough discovery. It seems to be a well-known fact and still not many are trying to shift this narrative.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. — BRENE BROWN
I am sure that there are many reasons that are contributing to building this specific storyline. In this text, I am focusing on sharing my personal experience and point of view.
1. Women’s time
“Now it’s time for women to take power over the world.” — I have heard this statement many many times (in this or another wording, the meaning was always the same). After many years of male dominance now it’s time for women to play the first fiddle in the business world. There is no mystery in the fact that the business world had been (is?) dominated by men. However, I don’t believe that we can build a brighter and successful future based on the concept of revenge or retaliation. Diversity requires a comprehensive approach that is based on inclusion NOT exclusion.
2. First impression rule
Binary gender topics are dominating the diversity narrative because binary gender is one of the easiest aspects of diversity that the human brain can embrace. Why? It’s all about appearance and first impression. I see (usually) if someone is a man of a woman. Easy, right?! What can be easier to satisfy the human need for clarity? It’s equally easy to observe someone’s race, physical fitness, age, or make a judgment about their economic status by the way they are dressed. We are leveraging the cognitive biases to simplify the environment. Following that instinct, we are putting an embargo or banishing people representing other aspects of diversity.
For many years women were the biggest discriminated group in the world. XIX and XX century brought a lot of positive changes in that field. Some changes are more recent than we thought. Women in Switzerland received the right to vote at the federal level in 1986. At the local cantonal level, the changes finished 1989/1990 when women in Appenzell obtained the voting rights. In Saudi Arabia, women were first allowed to vote only in December 2015 (municipal elections). The work is not done yet. Women are creating almost 50% of the global population and it’s easier to leverage that for driving the diversity agenda. I am not questioning the need for further development and changes in the women right’s sphere. I am fully supporting those efforts. However, we cannot ignore or undermine other dimensions of diversity just because they don’t follow under the dichotomy of binary gender theory.
Diversity is more than gender — diversity is defined as a presence of differences. There are multiple dimensions of differences: gender, age, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities, race, cultural, ethnic, religion or socioeconomic class. A lot of companies consider lifestyles, personality characteristics, perspectives, opinions, family composition, education level aspects of diversity, too. When establishing a diversity strategy for our organizations we need to design it with different dimensions in mind. Single-minded initiatives are doomed to fail in the long term or at least they won’t deliver on the full promise that diversity offers.
Diversity — the fact of many different types of things or people being included in something; a range of different things or people (Cambridge Dictionary).
Inclusion — Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan in their book “The Inclusion Dividend” called diversity a “systematic aspiration”. The goal of that aspiration is to include everyone, to create a climate that is inclusive and to create a talent acquisition and management processes that are inclusive and fair. By doing that the organization is maximizing the ability to meet its mission. The truth is that it is possible to have diversity within a company without an inclusive environment. However, this will be a short term approach with low (if none) possibilities to bring the desired outcomes. An essential question that needs to be addressed by modern organizations is: “How might we create dynamics and environment in which diverse teams can work together effectively?”
Inclusion — the act of allowing many different types of people to do something and treating them fairly and equally (Cambridge Dictionary).
Equity vs. Equality — in the diversity narrative those terms are often used interchangeably. Huge mistake! Equality is providing the same level of opportunity and assistance to all segments of society. Equity is providing various levels of support and assistance depending on the specific needs or abilities of individuals. Companies around the world are tackling this topic from different angles. I am not aspiring to judge it here. I just want to build awareness about different perspectives and the need for a conscious decision about which one to employ.
…and so what?
Instead of narrowing down the diversity narrative to gender equality I propose to open it up and focus on different dimensions and aspects of diversity. That shift can take place through the development of overarching Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) strategy and engaging passionate people to implement it. Why companies should make this effort? To fully leverage the opportunities and value proposition that diversity and inclusion are offering. Last but not least, by tackling the diversity topic on the wholistic and strategic level the company is reducing the risk of creating new inequalities/inequities when trying to fix the existing ones.
This text started as a short LinkedIn post. I realized that we are approaching #IWD2020 and started reflecting on that yearly celebration. Last year I wrote a short Medium article about Women’s Day and it led me to many interesting conversations about it. I will be happy to continue this dialog.