In the midst of a workshop session allegedly to ‘reach out’ to BAME communities (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities) and further the agenda for Diversity, I found myself in a heated discussion with a black British born male in his prime and a white female of a certain age. Both were united by having set up their own freelance consultancies as neither considered themselves likely to find employment; the man on account of his skin colour and the woman on account of her age. I attempted to refute their claims that racial discrimination and age discrimination are rampant in the workplace, but was shouted down with compelling examples. The black British born male described being ignored whilst waiting to be interviewed as the interview secretary looked for a white male on account of his British sounding name; she did not even bother to enquire if the expected interviewee could be him. The white female, with two first degrees, an MA and a doctorate introduced herself with an apologetic smile that nobody would employ her because of her age.
After some argument, we were able to find common ground and agree that an underlying issue for people in minority groups, however the term ‘minority’ is defined, feel that they simply ‘do not fit in’ and therefore may not bother to apply for jobs or other opportunities. The importance of belonging or fitting in, was highlighted as far back as 1943 in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Once basic needs such as food and shelter have been met, people look to ‘belong’ to a social group. Maslow saw this as an essential component of motivation and his theories contributed to induction programmes designed to build employee engagement.
Gender diversity, age diversity, ethnic diversity are terms used to explain and refer to the challenges of apparently creating a culture where it is acceptable to be different. Diversity is the new desirable. Diversity is good. Diversity drives innovation, brings colour and interest to the workplace. Undoubtedly the Diversity agenda has done a great deal to reduce discrimination. But Diversity is a hateful word. Diversity emphasises difference. By definition it implies disconnection and separateness.
The very term Diversity works against the absorption of workplace habits and behaviours, ‘doing’ acts, which need to develop so that the term Diversity becomes obsolete. Diversity, as a term, spawns a whole new set of labels, such as BAME , which then appear on flip charts in workshops run by government organisations. Language is a vehicle by which concepts and ideas can perpetuate. Labels becomes a handy reference point and provide a focus for prejudicial attitudes and behaviours. I question whether the open use of terms such as Diversity and acronyms such as BAME is still helpful. Is it possible that by using these terms, the very behaviours and prejudices that government organisations are trying to eradicate are unconsciously maintained?
The purpose of the workshop I attended was to consider how to tap into a pool of talent, hitherto inaccessible on account of the target group (in this case BAME) failing to respond to available opportunities. But untapped pools of talent lie in all quarters human kind. There are obvious differences between people such as age, gender, race and there are fairly obvious differences such as sexual orientation and religious beliefs. There are also other more subtle differences such as mental health, physical conditions, physical size, personality traits, family background, disposable wealth. Any ‘difference’ can engender a feeling of isolation and not fitting in. Does a fat person not feel equally out of place in a group of skinnies? If we are to attract and retain all of the available pool of human talent available, we need to bury the term Diversity and focus instead on Inclusivity.
Diversity and Inclusivity have been linked previously. The RCIS held a Diversity and Inclusion conference in 2016 and Global Diversity Practice wrote a popular article on the topic. However, by linking the terms, Inclusivity becomes an antidote for Diversity, not a substitute. I believe we need to go much further and drop the term Diversity completely. We need to create an Inclusivity agenda. Inclusivity does not emphasise ‘difference’, but rather makes people feel that they belong. The challenge for organisations is to define, encourage and reward inclusive attitudes and behaviours. Inclusive behaviours can be as simple as welcoming a new employee and introducing them with a summary of their skills and abilities. Inclusive behaviours make people feel valued for who they are. Inclusivity celebrates the contribution that an individual makes and makes no comment on any aspect of difference. Inclusivity builds teams and a sense of worth. Perhaps it is time for HR professionals and businesses everywhere to stop thinking Diversity and start thinking Inclusivity. Create an inclusive culture, one that embraces and welcomes people with the skills, knowledge and attitude to make a contribution. Check your organisation’s branding and messages on all channels; they may need to be re-shaped. Rather than ‘Company X prides itself on Diversity’, try ‘You only need talent to work at Company X? Does your workplace shout Inclusivity? Does your organisation feel inclusive? Do your people act inclusive? If your organisation is truly inclusive, no words are needed.
SkillsforSale would love to hear your comments on an Agenda for Inclusivity. Join me in shaping a future that celebrates what we have in common and not what separates us.