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  • Jonathan Max
    Jonathan Max

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    Dealing with the Diversity backlash

    The ‘ping’ of a new email notification; it’s from HR and you are ‘invited’ to a Diversity and Inclusion workshop. Honestly, what is running through your mind?

     

    The business case for diversity has been entirely consistent over the last few years; as highlighted by McKinsey

    • Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians
    • Diverse companies are in a better position to win top talent and improve customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and decision making

     

    In the UK, the Women in Finance Charter initiative and the recently instated Gender Pay Gap reporting have both helped in keeping Diversity & Inclusion on the agenda at C-suite level. But does it go far enough into true diversity? And why is there already a sense of ennui when it comes to talking about Diversity and Inclusion?

     

    I would suggest there are two core reasons:

    • Diversity fatigue: driven by the energy and resources required to solve complex issues and the necessary commitment over a long-time period. Most of us feel that as individuals, we can’t really make a difference and so fail to take any meaningful action.
    • Incorrect focus: most Diversity and Inclusion initiatives focus on increasing the representation or achieving a quota for a specific sub-set of the population; rather than focusing on belonging and inclusion throughout the organisation.

     

    Taking the last point a little further, we are hearing initiatives aimed at women only are drawing objection in some camps and this is raising concern around the exclusion of other people. As a result, this can certainly cause negative sentiment.

    In January this year, four former female Google employees alleged in a lawsuit that the company systematically pays and promotes men more than women. In a lawsuit filed shortly after, former male employees alleged that Google unfairly favours women and certain minorities when hiring and promoting. The company rejected both allegations. This ‘story’ essentially summarises the recent Google diversity report which shows rather too clearly that too little progress has been made.

     

    Let’s return to the initial question about how people generally feel about Diversity and Inclusion training. The issues are not with the programmes themselves; which if well-structured and facilitated make a compelling case for valuing different perspectives, not just because its ‘the right thing to do’ but because of the positive impact both on financial performance and innovation.  Diverse workplaces include people with different experiences, varying personalities, and different levels of experience to foster creativity and offer a range of viewpoints and ideas.

     

    Organisations must work to overcome perceptual and cultural barriers for their diversity programs to succeed; ensuring that ‘freedom of speech’ and overt ‘political correctness’ doesn’t lead to an egg-shell type culture which will only achieve the exact opposite of what the whole thing is about!

     

    Companies need to drive a culture where employees know how to accept thoughts, ideas and personalities of others in the workplace. They also need to provide information on how to deal with prejudice and conflict in a civilised and professional manner.

     

    Ultimately, the diversity backlash is self-imposed; without commitment from senior leadership which must be focused and on the long-term strategy and not ‘quick wins’ that tick a particular box in a particular year. Leadership need to recognise and be prepared for the negativity and scepticism and hold all levels of the organisation accountable.

     

    If  you’re not a CEO or a member of the senior leadership of your organisation, what can you do to contribute and perhaps change your mind-set, so you continue to embrace Diversity and Inclusion?

     

    Start with a small step and foster belonging and inclusion in your workplace interactions. If you see that someone has been marginalised or is not being listened to; give them time to share their view and how they might approach a situation. You just might be rather surprised by the outcome!



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