Companies have been targeting diversity in teams for years now, and it isn’t hard to find evidence to suggest an inclusive environment benefits recruitment, performance and retention – without even needing to dig into the intangible benefits of ensuring your business is a great place to work.
In a society that is increasingly more willing to speak on issues previously thought of as taboo, such as sexual harassment, we’ve come a long way in terms of inclusivity towards people of different genders, races, and sexual orientations, but there is still work to be done.
Michael Kimmel who is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University in New York says: “I am a generic person. I am a middle-class white man. I have no race, no class, no gender. I am universally generalisable.”
This position is something I identify with. I was lucky enough that my parents were able to assist financially while at university, and looking at my graduating class, you’d quickly notice fewer than 10% of my fellow students were women. In fact, the majority of my cohort looked and sounded like me, which has been a constant for most of my life.
I have never worried if someone is actually listening to what I am saying in a meeting or trying to determine my sexuality, nor have I had to come up with techniques to make people feel more comfortable with this. I am a software developer, and no expert on this topic, I do not have all the answers, but I have seen firsthand the absolute need of a diverse and inclusive environment and have become a passionate supporter in this space.
I am introverted by nature, I get anxious in large crowds and because of this, you will rarely see me at a protest. The easier option has always been to pretend as if social issues such as gender equality will resolve themselves, and believe that a world where everyone has equal opportunities and our differences are celebrated will just happen on its own.
Sadly, the illusion that I had created for myself is just that, a distorted perception of reality. In 2017, the World Economic Forum estimated that it would take 217 years for the disparities in pay and employment opportunities between men and women to end, this figure is enough in isolation to dishearten people without having to mention that this estimate actually went up from 170 years the year before.
This is a staggering stat, one that turned up my voice to better advocate and narrow these gaps. While I am working to do my part, the big catalyst for actual change does sit with organisations – they have the power to create a more equal reality.
Diversity and inclusion are terms often lumped together, and you may even have a ‘D&I Team’ at your workplace, but they are actually two distinct and separate things.
Verna Myers makes a great analogy about this, she describes these differences as, “diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
Some might consider this an oversimplification of a very complex issue. It does, however, highlight the idea that diversity is about representation within your organisation, are people of different genders, races, sexual orientations working at your company; whereas inclusion is about the involvement of these people, do they feel accepted, and heard just as much as any other member within the organisation.
So what comes first? Diversity is often focused on, as it is easier to measure, you just need to invite the right people to the dance, however without inclusion this is all for naught, as you will have employees who do not feel empowered and are likely not to stay for long.
Everyone is responsible to ensure that others feel comfortable in the workplace. When people feel like they belong somewhere, they will likely be happier and have an improved attitude towards the work that they do.
Activities to promote inclusion don’t need to be expensive and could be as simple as putting on small celebrations for different cultural holidays, whether it be Thanksgiving, Ramadan or Cinco de Mayo acknowledging celebrations such as these can remind people of home and give co-workers shared experiences to relate to and bond over.
Companies are often publicly stating that they wish to hire more women, yet there are many industries that remain male-dominated.
An investigation by Davidson Technology suggests that men still outnumber women 2:1 in the IT industry, with the most shocking stat being that women make up only 14% of executive positions. Australia may benefit from policies similar to what France recently enforced whereby gender quotas of approximately 40% must be achieved by corporate boards of medium and large-sized firms and public institutions.
Some companies are standing out by fighting against this trend such as the booming Silicon Valley start-up Lever, who reached a ratio of roughly 50:50 ratio of men and women. Whilst there are, some great programs being run, such as the Government’s Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship Grant program there is still a lot of work to go.
With Kiandra, being a consultancy with an international client base, we work with companies from a broad range of industries and these companies themselves are diverse as are their customers. What this really means is to give the best possible service, it is paramount that we are also diverse, and I’ve learned a lot from being in this kind of environment.
I consider myself proactive and love trying new things – but if everyone thought the same way as me, I have no doubt that we would run head first into some major mistakes. Working with people who have different backgrounds, skills and experiences is vital to our ability to make smart decisions and you can learn so much from colleagues who attack problems from a completely different angle than I do.
When companies in the IT industry fail to innovate, they go backwards and, like sharks, if they go backwards they drown. Which makes you wonder why diversity is still as much of an issue as it is today when 85% of the 321 companies with more than $500 million in revenue surveyed by Forbes Insights said that they agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is key to driving innovation in the workplace.
Many companies in the UK now employ a “name-blind recruitment” strategy whereby names are not included on graduate recruitment applications reducing the chance of potential discrimination and there is evidence to suggest that Australia could benefit from committing to this as well.
Aside from the fact, the name-based discrimination is immoral and unjust; there are also follow-on effects that damage society. Name-based discrimination adds a glass ceiling to what is possible for many minorities to achieve in their careers, and when combined with other possible forms of disenfranchisement that have been seen in sectors such as the housing market can lead to a cycle of oppression.
In an ever-evolving industry where geographical borders become less and less important, the companies who understand the importance of relating to their diverse customer base and creating teams with differences of backgrounds and experiences are likely to rise to the top.
This is something that everyone can influence whether you are in management, a developer like myself or all the way at the top, a workplace is like a family and if you treat it like one, embracing everyone's differences, your company will be a whole lot better for it.