Over the past few years, I’ve been excited by the very progressive Diversity and Inclusion targets set by many organisations in Australia. Indeed, the benefits of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace are well-documented.
However, the speed with which these targets are designed to be met can be confronting to some employees, even people from minority or marginalised groups that they are seeking to prioritise. It’s important to be aware that some of your staff may misunderstand the need to proactively foster diversity, and react to its implementation in a negative way.
Here’s what you need to know about encouraging everyone to embrace Diversity and Inclusion in your workplace.
Measures to implement diversity in the workplace can result in backlash, but they don’t have to. If the measures are accompanied by actions that focus on inclusion for all staff, and you address concerns as they arise, you’ll ensure this a positive journey for all of your employees. Remember, the work you’re doing is about levelling the playing field, not holding anyone back.
If you’re aiming to improve Diversity and Inclusion in your workplace, use your metrics to measure diversity and inclusion for all. For example, you might think about:
A working environment that is inclusive is one where employees understand the benefits of Diversity and Inclusion, and that these processes aim to improve equity amongst all team members. For more tips about working with staff who may need extra support to embrace diversity, see my article about encouraging resistant employees to get on board with Diversity and Inclusion.
This is simply not true. Merit is subjective and susceptible to bias. Further, the best person for the job may not be the right person for the job. For instance, throughout the recruitment process, a candidate’s skill set will be measured against other qualities, such as their ability to relate to others and work within a team environment.
We know diversity brings benefits to a team and an organisation, but our natural tendencies lean us towards people like us. Have you ever heard someone say that the candidate is a good team fit? This is a clear indication that bias is driving decision making. Recruiting for diversity doesn’t see a lowering of expectations—it just means we look harder for the right candidate.
Some people believe that equity measures are reverse discrimination. However, in doing so, they are failing to understand the power differences between people of different races, sexualities or genders. For example, white people have held power over people of different races for centuries and this has created a hierarchy. In our systems and in our organisations it is not possible for a white person to experience racism, because white people have been and still are the oppressors—not the oppressed.
Although people can be racially discriminatory towards white people, in a system where leaders are more likely to be white than not, barriers for white people to reach leadership roles are not a result of their skin colour. I find the words of the 14 year old American poet, Royce Mann, a useful way of thinking about this: “Life can be hard if you are white, but life will never be hard because you are white”.
Though there may be instances where certain groups benefit from a particular policy—say, extra career development support for women in the I.T. field—it’s more accurate to think of this as positive, rather than reverse, discrimination. There are many, often lifelong barriers to women attaining roles in I.T. that providing support is a way of trying to overcome them.
The Australian Human Rights Commission states that ‘discrimination on the basis of certain attributes such as age, sex, race or disability is not always against the law.’ In Victoria, special measures exist to allow for positive discrimination. This recognises that disadvantage based on personal attributes does exist and that action may need to be taken to counteract it. This allows organisations to take actions to ensure that everyone has more equitable access to opportunities and services.
Affirmative action refers to a strategy that aims to address discrimination by increasing opportunities for marginalised groups. It can support your business’s efforts to improve Diversity and Inclusion by providing a way of understanding and measuring your goals, such as creating a hiring quota to improve representation of a particular group.
In my experience, affirmative action and targets are the only factors proven to make a difference when it comes to increasing diversity and equality. Without it, I believe we would be looking at a time frame of centuries before gender parity, for instance, is reached in the workforce.
If you’d like to develop a Diversity and Inclusion strategy that’s informed by affirmative action and won’t disengage your existing workforce, Bree Gorman can help. We can offer your business a complimentary 20-minute discovery call to better understand your challenges. Book one today!
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