I recently read a Harvard Business Review article on the need for movements not mandates to create culture change. The article put forward the case for harnessing learning’s from social movements to create change within your organisation, in their case they are talking about innovation and company performance – is the same true for inclusion? We have certainly observed the impact global and national social movements have had on workplace inclusion in the last few years. The #metoo movement generated strong demands for change within workplaces, as did the same-sex marriage debate. But how do organisations create internal culture change without global or national social movements to piggyback off? What about cultural diversity, disability, ageism – do we need a social movement before we see these get prioritised?
I have regularly heard the comment “Once we get it right for women it will help everyone”. I used to believe this when I first started working in Gender Equity. And it’s a reasonable assumption, there is more appetite to improve gender equity because nearly 50% of the population are women. But the challenges for well-educated, straight, white women are not necessarily comparable to someone with intersecting aspects of their identity. As a result, solutions created as a direct result of the #metoo movement which included improved policies and mandated training will not necessarily improve the lived experience of a single mother with a disability. Do we have to wait for another social movement to address the challenges this woman faces in the workplace?
The steps provided in the above mentioned article could be particularly useful here. The first step they list for leaders to create grassroots change is to Frame the issue. I believe leaders need to get better at framing Diversity and Inclusion work to be bigger than gender but as relatable and understandable as gender. By that, I mean inclusion is about creating a sense of belonging for everyone, getting to understand and know our staff, colleagues and peers and listen to what gets in their way, what can enable them to perform better but also to enjoy their jobs (a core requirement for high performance). We must broaden our lens to understand the reality of the workplace experience for all our staff. I believe that getting Diversity and Inclusion programs right for someone who experiences inequity from a number of angles can create more meaningful and impactful change.
Reframing messages around Diversity means broadening its definition beyond more women in leadership roles or more culturally diverse people in marketing material – both important goals but not the whole picture. It’s diversity of thought, experience and background - and importantly the intersection of all of that. Perhaps this re-frame could create a different, more inclusive movement from the bottom up.
I certainly don’t want to discount the nuances of creating inclusive environments for individual groups or issues, there is much validity in that. Specific polices, training and action plans are required. But when seeking to motivate and empower employees to create change from the ground up maybe a more inclusive conversation could be more effective.
Contact me if you are starting a Diversity and Inclusion program in your workplace or would like advice on an existing Diversity and Inclusion strategy.
15 October 2021
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16 August 2021