Diversity is defined as the presence for human differences – including the way we think, process information, learn, behave and physical and cultural indicators such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, different physical abilities, colour, sexual orientation, socio-economic backgrounds amongst others. Diversity is always present, even in seemingly homogeneous groups, two colleagues are never the same.
Equity is the understanding of our differences as human beings and a consideration of these differences when we are interacting with each other. Equity focuses on equal outcomes as well as equal opportunity. A classic example of equity is the provision of ramps in stores. Ys, with a door access is available to all, but for the differently abled, or even parents with a pram, the outcomes will be different in absence of a ramp.
And finally, inclusion is the intentional welcoming, engaging and leveraging of human differences, underpinned by respect and psychological safety for everyone to participate and contribute.
It is important for leaders to understand the differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion, and why it can be harmful to equate or confuse them with one another. Much more importantly, leaders need to recognise that diversifying a workforce does not automatically result or organically mature into inclusion which suggests that inclusion should be a goal that organizations assign resources to.
One of the most notable events in 2021 to demonstrate this point is the Prince Harry, Meghan and Oprah interview, and while the reactions have been very varied, it is indeed a teachable case of ensuring that in embracing diversity, leaders are aware of the potential opportunities and challenges and the need for more intentional actions beyond just good intentions. Below are two lessons that employers can learn from the royal family debacle about managing diversity in a changing world of work.
- Diversity brings responsibility: It is possible to diversify your talent pipeline and invest in recruitment practices to reach underrepresented groups much more effectively, and in turn this can indeed increase diversity across your organisation. But what happens next is just as important.
After the euphoric welcome of new talent, comes Bruce Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming and performing curve. Essentially, the very same appeal of diverse opinions, backgrounds, experiences and systems can ‘shock’ the system and lead to dissent and if improperly managed, can fracture the team and lead to resentment.
When Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex joined the royal family, her arrival was hailed as ground-breaking in moving race relationship forward across the country, and this was indeed true, she very quickly developed a following of women and people of colour who felt a sense of identity and connection with her. However, it appears within the institution, not a lot of work was done to try and anticipate how her context and their context might collide, and the space to have those conversations, and make progress was not intentionally curated to the extent that these differences could have been effectively managed.
The duty of bearing this responsibility, often falls on the shoulders of the leaders in a group setting, it is not up to the underrepresented talent to ‘fit-in’, but their leaders to create the space for that ‘fitting-in’ to happen. Often that space is uncomfortable and tasking – but at the same time critical to realising the dividends of your diversity efforts.
- You Must Understand the Challenges: Leaders who are fostering inclusion must take the time to identify, and anticipate the challenges of teaming across diversity lines, how do we get a multicultural, multigenerational, multiracial, multi-gender organisation to work, and essentially what could go wrong?
Beyond taking the responsibility to help diversity thrive, we must also be aware of potential pitfalls. Often glossy diversity and inclusion stats paint a picture of perfection – increase in brand equity, profit and wellbeing are often cited – and these are all true, but only after you do the hard lifting.
I get twitchy when leaders say things like – I don’ t see colour, I don’t see gender, or everyone is the same to me. The truth is, everyone is not the same, and you cannot lead what you can’t even see. To provide situational leadership, leaders must understand the context they are operating in.
In a changing world of work, leaders need to invest energy, time and resources to understand the challenges diverse communities face in their career journeys, it is this understanding that helps them tailor their leadership to each unique situation.
Meghan is a mixed-race, divorced American woman, what hurdles could she face internally and externally in her role representing the institution? Employers must plan for challenges to emerge and identify clear actions to manage these incidences, rather than just being shocked by them.
Action Planning – What can you do next?
- Conduct a gap assessment of your policies, processes and culture with experienced inclusion experts and identify the areas that may benefit from an intentional focus.
- Provide diversity and inclusion learning and development opportunities to your staff, especially senior leaders and middle managers who interact with staff on a regular basis and shape the cultural landscape.
- Identify a collective set of diversity and inclusion commitments across your organisation and align these clearly to your values and ways of working.
As the conversation continues around diversity and inclusion and your organisation’s talent landscape evolves, now is the best time to ensure that the foundational work to align your culture to inclusion is well underway,
With diversity, comes responsibility, the responsibility to create space emotionally, culturally, spiritually, physically and psychologically for each other to exist. Time and time again, we have seen that inclusion is not an automatic product of diversity, we have to foster it, promote it and protect it.