“We’re here – but should we have come?”
The irrepressible Richard Ayoade uses this catchphrase at the start of each of his Travel Man episodes and it strikes me as rather apt when considering the experiences of a great many in the workplace. Let me explain.
There are people who, not very long ago, would have struggled to get a foot through the door of many workplaces. That I can now say ‘a great many in the workplace’ suggests great strides have been made. True, but only true on a surface level. Whilst the majority of our workplaces are far more diverse than was the case until very recently, are they truly inclusive? The simple answer is ‘no’. And thus, while people from many diverse backgrounds are here – there is still a sense that if their workplace isn’t fully inclusive, they may feel, perhaps, that they shouldn’t have come.
So how do we change that? How do we make all comers welcome, included, and valued? On the face of it, diversity makes people welcome; inclusion ensures they’re included, and equity will see they are truly valued.
Put simply: diversity sees a wide mix of people, from all backgrounds to include race, religion, gender, sexuality, different disabilities…and that is not a complete list. But are all those people included within the organisation? Can they be themselves and do they feel a true sense of belonging? Of course, without these being answered in the affirmative, how can those people have an equal chance of a piece of work; be involved in the discussions and decision-making? In other words, without equity, diversity and inclusion are limited at best and baseless at worst.
This year I’ll be banging the drum for equity in the workplace (and, of course, in society at large).
It feels like steps are taken when there is a shocking event which draws attention to society’s bias and injustice. The tragedy of George Floyd resulted in the Black Lives Matter campaign and gained a lot of focus and support. Yet I do question how far this support truly runs… This is, I believe, often unintentional and unconscious ‘exclusion’. Which is ironic, given the initial aim.
More fad and fashion?
It is an awkward thing to have to say, but it seems such topics of concern are more a fad or fashion. Brought to our attention we feel compelled to do something about it. LGBTQ+ concerns appear to be at the forefront of news as I write: will these people from a diverse background experience true inclusion and equity, or will change and ‘progress’, however well-intentioned much of it may be, only result in being little more than tokenism? And it truly pains me to write that.
So how is this the case? Well, organisations strive to get that diverse mix, but how do their working environments and practices seek to include everyone? Seemingly positive and well-intentioned activities can actually exclude many people. The end of the week drinks at the pub or celebratory occasions will exclude certain people due to their religion. Others may struggle to attend due to their physical circumstances. Whilst the workplace may have been designed to cater for someone who is in a wheelchair, for example, has access and entrance to the place of socialising also been considered? It is a classic example of people not being included due to ‘unconscious bias’.
The socialising and celebrating together is a hugely important part of building ‘teamwork’ and strengthening bonds. It is also a place where informal discussions and decisions begin. But if you can’t attend, you don’t belong. And if you don’t belong, you’re not included. And if you’re not included, well…you get the point.
I could consider another unconscious bias. Times are tough for nearly all organisations at the moment. There are redundancies. Frequently, the length of time someone has been an employee can shape the redundancy decision. On the surface, a ‘last in, first out’ approach – skills and competence having been assessed – would appear to be a fair course of action. But if the organisation has only recently become more diverse, the very people who have, at last, been recognised, albeit not really understood and valued for what they can and do bring to the organisation, will be those being requested to leave.
So, should we change everything and have only aspects which suit and accommodate everyone? No, that would be impractical. Rather than discount traditional practices, organisations should look to add new, inclusive practices. Not only will this enable people from different cultures and backgrounds to socialise and celebrate as they wish but it will also open the eyes of others to their lifestyle and traditions. A huge part of the inclusion and equity problem is people don’t know what they don’t know. By encouraging more diverse events and celebrations, it’s a great way to find out!
Back to school
It’s interesting, if we take a look at schools, they seek to celebrate and understand so many different religious practices. The children learn and see different occasions and what they mean. They will mark and celebrate festivals and practices such as Eid, Ramadan, the Chinese and Jewish New Year and so on. In so doing, they learn, and everyone joins in. Why on earth can’t organisations in the workplace be the same? And seek to involve everyone in these celebrations?
I set out to highlight the lack of true inclusivity and, therefore, the absence of equity within organisations. I’ve begun to touch on what organisations and the leadership can do to address ‘unconscious bias’ and that is going to be the focus of my next post. But before I sign off, I’ve included a link to the blackinclusionindex. It is a sobering, if short, read. Its findings reveal the very wide difference in perception of how black people feel about decisions, actions and inclusion within their workplace compared to how their white colleagues feel when asked the same questions. This disconnect between perception and reality is also undoubtedly being played out across other diverse communities among LGBTQ+, disabled, religious and older colleagues.
Perception may not be the law, but it is frequently cited as being nine tenths of it. If that is so, in this case it would seem that the answer to Richard Ayoade’s question would not be a positive one. That is what we have to change! Only through equity will those colleagues who are here feel certain they should have come.