Do your Diversity and Inclusion programmes suffer from inequity?



In 2020, the importance and significance of Diversity and Inclusion became topical, relevant and impossible to ignore. A year which saw #blacklivesmatter come to the forefront of many minds, and a pandemic which has unfairly hit diverse and minority communities across the globe was also the year that many corporate agendas began to take D&I seriously. And for good reason too. 

Not only is an emphasis on D&I vital for equality, humanity and fairness, it’s also genuinely beneficial for business. In fact, a 2015 McKinsey study found that businesses ethnically diverse workforces do better financially. They’re actually 35% more likely to financially outperform their competitors who do not focus on D&I. It’s serious business, and that’s why it’s being taken seriously. But it’s really not as simple as just adding some diversity to your talent pool and being done with D&I. 

This is complicated stuff and requires a lot of oversight and understanding of your workforce. So unfortunately, even though many organisations are taking diversity and inclusion seriously and with the best will in the world, their plans and approaches may still be flawed. In fact, in many cases D&I is often unknowingly being executed unfairly and in an inequitable manner. 

Don’t you mean equality

No, although the conflation between the two terms is quite common. Equality is not the same as equity and, when it comes to the subject of diversity and inclusion, the differences are distinct and important. 

Equality is the aim of ensuring every individual is treated equally and exactly the same; everyone is treated in exactly the same way. You can see why many organisations focus on equality: equal rights, equal opportunities. No one is singled out and no one is treated differently for any reason. It’s a good start (and is certainly better than having no policies in place which protect minorities), however equitable workplaces take this a step further and seek to understand individual needs and differences, and accommodate them accordingly. 

Fair and equitable is not equality for all

Equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.

That means not everyone will receive the same support or tools. Let’s look at an example: let’s call having 20/20 vision our equitable landscape, the place we want everyone to be working in. We want everyone to be able to see clearly.

In an equal environment, everyone will be given glasses which allow them to see clearly and at the standards of 20/20 vision, regardless of whether they need them or indeed can use them. 

But in an equitable environment, you may well have several scenarios: 

  • Person A is given nothing to support them, as they already have 20/20 vision 
  • Person B is given glasses to enable them to see clearly 
  • Person C is visually impaired, and therefore is provided with a digital reader to enable them to have ‘20/20 vision’ when it comes to reading, accessibility and more
  • Person D is provided with contact lenses as they are unable to use glasses 

As you can see, equity is a much fairer place for individuals, and is an agenda item organisations should seek to understand and implement if they’re serious about creating truly inclusive, equal and diverse workplaces. 

3 Ways To Create An Equitable Workplace

In Matthew Syed’s book “Rebel Ideas”, the author explores the powerful potential of diverse thought and the positive impact this can have on every aspect of human life. However, without an equitable working environment, even Matthew’s incredible insights into diversity will fail, because voices will be held back. They will be left unheard and unable to reach their full potential, in spite of rigorous D&I policies. 

So what can we do, as business leaders and decision-makers, to ensure our D&I efforts are equitable and not merely paying lip service to the idea of equality? What can we do to encourage business success, foster open and diverse mindsets and create workplaces which give everyone a fair chance to be seen, heard and understood? 

  1. Seek to deeply understand your people

In the example we provided, what becomes most vital in delivering a more equitable workplace is truly understanding your people and their unique needs. Blanket, one-size-fits-all approaches will not achieve desired D&I results. Therefore it is critical to unearth this. You can do this through better data and analysis, more robust in-house support systems and mentoring as well as surveys, 360 feedback loops and more. 

  1. Know that some needs aren’t always visible 

Whilst some of the diversity challenges within our workplace are easy to see, such as race or gender, there are many aspects to diversity and inclusion which aren’t always so visible. Whilst some of your business efforts may well be around creating a wider understanding of these differences and needs, if we are to meet individual needs differently we must seek to elevate awareness of more ‘invisible’ challenges such as political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation, or communication styles among employees.

  1. Overcome bias and reduce internal resistance 

When some employees see that their peers are receiving support, and they are not, this has the potential to cause conflict and friction in the workplace. It’s unlikely to be conducive to the open, communicative and collaborative workplace you are aiming to foster through your D&I efforts. Ensure your employees are educated, knowledgeable and ultimately, help them to respect that differences between individuals require different levels of support and the organisation is acting accordingly. 

When you are changing an organisational culture and seeking to foster new mindsets, new approaches and new ways of thinking and working, the process isn’t an overnight success. It’s not going to be easy, but the benefits are undeniable for both your business and your employees. 

To help with this transition, ensure you have a clear understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve, how you are going to support your employees through this change and finally, help them to understand why these changes are of benefit to them. We promise, it’ll be worth it.

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