Any forward-thinking organisation will now talk about their commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion but what do these three words actually mean, why is there so much focus on it, and if it is so important, how do we truly achieve it?
Equality is simply the state of being equal and is important because it is the foundation of any fair society where each member has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Diversity is any difference, whether visible or not, in fact anything that makes us unique. Inclusion involves creating an environment of respect, where different ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives come together.
It is now widely agreed that organisations need both diversity and inclusion to be successful. The question is therefore not ‘why’ do we need to focus on it but ‘how’ do we achieve it?
I believe we firstly need to reshape the conversation, shining the spotlight away from a narrow focus on gender diversity and on to wider talent diversity. Gender diversity alone won’t increase the success of a company or create the changes we so fundamentally need in society.
Here are three of the many things I believe we need to be doing to achieve equality not only in the workplace but also in our wider society:
Change the culture
At Deloitte they have focused on building an inclusive culture underpinned by respect. They have industry leading approaches supporting their respect and inclusion agenda – agile working, shared parental leave, diversity networks, LGBT allies, prayer and wellness rooms, the list goes on. However it is not enough to have an infrastructure supporting diversity, belief in equality needs to be embedded into the culture and the thinking of the people in the business.
Flexible (or agile) working is a good example. When implementing their agile working approach nearly six years ago, they made it clear to everyone that they had the ability to choose when, where and how they worked. This fundamental change to the way they work has moved them a lot closer towards greater diversity and equality but has only been successful because the approach was supported by a change in the culture.
If the workplace culture accepts or encourages people to be seen in the office until late, then a company couldn’t successfully introduce such a programme. We can’t expect to make progress if we just layer diversity initiatives on top of attitudes that do not support them.
We are aiming for a workplace and society that is inclusive, which means we don’t want to exclude anyone, including the ‘non-diverse’ groups, who may be supportive of diversity in principle but who could feel ostracised by initiatives that they are excluded from.
With the focus on International Women’s Day recently, I couldn’t help but notice the inevitable cries of ‘what about International Men’s day?’. Although this is missing the point that the day is still needed to highlight ongoing gender inequality and ensure future progress, if we focus on the minority groups alone, we risk building resentment in the majority and alienating them entirely. In order to achieve change, we need everyone to understand the debate and get fully behind this.
Diversity networks are great to give people a forum to share ideas but are only successful if they are inclusive. I would even question why we need a ‘diversity’ group as we are all individually unique. I look forward to a society where the under-represented have achieved equality and we no longer need networks or women’s only events to press for progress and that everyone, with all of their differences, comes together in an equal, inclusive society.
Question our own thinking
Even those of us who think of ourselves as open-minded can challenge our way of thinking.
Do you surround yourself with people from different backgrounds, with different beliefs? Ask yourself: are all my personal and professional connections just like me? Do I have any unconscious bias? We are genetically programmed to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us but doing this closes our minds. Equal doesn’t mean the same and we need to have respect for people with different views or who have made different choices.
Debate is healthy and should be encouraged, but we must not forget what we are trying to achieve:
Unity International Lunches hosts a monthly ‘international lunch’ featuring foods from different countries with an aim of integrating ethnic groups in Boscombe.