Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace
Start a conversation around equality, diversity, and inclusion in any context, especially with reference to diversity training in the workplace and you are likely to be talking about different things to different people. In certain instances, you will be accused of “opening a can of worms”, of sowing division or “focussing on our differences” and not our similarities. Discussions around equality, diversity and inclusion within the workplace are often misunderstood and restricted to issues relating solely to discrimination, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and gender inequality. While these issues are of critical importance and require urgent attention, how can we start thinking about equality, diversity and inclusion in a holistic and proactive way! Seeing discussions around “that which makes us different” as empowering, as opposed to frightening. As unifying, not divisive.
This article forms the beginning of a series of articles which deal with the notion of equality, diversity, and inclusion (“EDI”). The idea behind this article is to get you to stop, reflect and understand how EDI affects every aspect of your organisation.
There is No End Point
When introducing concepts like EDI within the workplace, it is tempting to fall into the trap of positioning EDI as a standard product you can produce and preserve; that this is something you can easily purchase off-the-rack in a diversity training bouquet with the same guaranteed results. It is tempting further to believe that there is a starting point and end point to this discussion. That we can say “we have now come to a stage where we are fully equal, diverse, and inclusive”. Let us not be lured into these simplistic notions of change, but instead digest the hard truth that EDI is a journey within an ever-changing landscape. That we never truly arrive at an endpoint. As such, let us not see inclusion as a destination, but rather as a skill set or practice. Something for us to work on and develop on this journey to no end.
Every House Needs a bit of TLC!
EDI is most often referred to in the context of diversity training or diversity and inclusion programmes in the workplace. In South Africa, the added nuance of Employment Equity and B-BBEE further limit our understanding of the broad impact of EDI within our organisations and how the skill set (or practice) of EDI can benefit our workspaces.
To better understand the impact of EDI in the workplace, we like to use the analogy of an organisation being a house. Why a house? Well, given that we spend more time at our work than we do at home and that organisations are a coming together of individuals with different roles, responsibilities and hierarchies, the analogy of the house makes perfect sense.
For a house to be stable and have longevity, strong foundations are essential. For our organisations, a strong foundation is one of trust. In order for organisations to succeed, grow and survive a high level of trust is needed among occupants within the house (between our employees, managers and leadership), as well as between the occupants and the structure of the organisation itself (trust in the fair policies, processes and practices). Building trust between employees and in the structure of our organisation is essential. The EDI skill set focusses on the creation of trust across lines of difference (our diversity) by creating spaces to talk about our fears, angers and anxieties in relation to our internalised beliefs, biases and value judgements. Further, by seeking to create fairness within the structure of the organisation (fair treatment, equal opportunity), we drive certainty which in turn fosters trust in the structures of the organisation.
Supported by the foundations of trust are the three fundamental pillars that provide structure and form to this house. These pillars are talent, leadership, and culture (“TLC”). No one can argue the importance of TLC for the success of any organisation! The trick here is to see how intimately the practice of EDI is wrapped up in the strength and resilience of these three pillars. Simply put, the pillars of TLC cannot support the structure of an organisation without being reinforced with the practice and thinking of EDI!
We cannot develop talent without meaningfully including them. The new currency of talent is being engaged, challenged, supported, heard, validated and grown (metrics of inclusion). If only a handful of talent feel comfortable (or included) within an organisation, only this handful will remain and prosper. The EDI skill set requires us to inquire and understand the relative levels of comfort and discomfort that talent fell within our organisations. Understanding these areas allows us to begin developing programmes and structures to drive greater comfort, which in turn drives a greater sense of inclusion with the effect of greater talent participation, retention and engagement.
Strategies around talent attraction, retention, mapping and pipelines cannot succeed without discussing EDI and how we meaningfully include all the talent we invite into our house.
The role of leadership is to drive, support and develop talent. Further, they have a vested interested in creating an environment where talent can thrive. As such, leadership cannot shirk their responsibility to talent by ignoring the development of the EDI skill set. What is this skill set for leadership? Creating opportunities to build trust with talent. Negotiating how talent likes to be managed, while clearly articulating what it is that leadership require from talent. Holding bad behaviour accountable. Role modelling fairness and continuing to build self-awareness of internalised bias and how this influences their leadership style.
A strong organisational culture is often characterised by high levels of trust, communication, innovation, safety to speak up and engagement. Much like the above, these elements of what we have historically seen as a “strong culture” are capped if there is no meaningful inclusion of talent within our organisations and no leadership buy-in to driving an inclusive culture. Peoples’ relative levels of comfort and discomfort affect their levels of trust, communication, their willingness to try and fail (innovation) and their perceived safety to speak up. We cannot drive a strong culture without considering EDI.
So, what is equality, diversity, and inclusion?
Equality, diversity, and inclusion is essentially a practice where the organisation asks itself how to get the most out of the people within its spaces. It’s the process of determining how an organisation can create the most comfortable space for all people to feel that they have a chance to become the best human beings they can be operating with maximum human resource efficiency. All this lies with an important question: how do we make people better by making them feel equal and included even though they are different?
For many, this may seem impossible and overwhelming, but we know it’s not and needn’t be. All it starts with is an awareness of the interconnectedness of EDI in all facets of our businesses, the importance of EDI on TLC and a willingness to engage with EDI in our organisations despite the discomfort and insecurity.
If you’re interested in this topic or would simply like to find out more about what we do, follow us on Linkedin or visit our website www.cohesioncollective.com