Navigating Diversity and Inclusion

Someone very wise once said: “If you want to learn something, teach it.”

I needed to better understand Diversity and inclusion (D&I) before teaching it; I needed to do my homework.

I was introduced to the topic through clients, colleagues, and experts. I admit that I was misguided and had preconceived notions about D&I since I immediately attributed it to gender: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), and others (LGBTQ+).

It turns out that D&I is not only about LGBTQ+. It’s about being fair to people and recognizing the true value they can bring to an organization.

The first topic that came up in my discussions with D&I experts was the equal treatment of women in the workplace.

There goes my perception again. Back in the mid-80s to mid-90s in Canada, some of my best bosses were women. I wondered what the problem was or what the issue was. This is where my interest peaked because I learned that even in developed countries, women were still not being treated fairly in the workplace.

 It’s easy to notice that even in developing countries, more and more employees from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal are filling much-needed jobs in the service industry. Many of my clients have identified this as a real benefit.

diversity and inclusion
Photo: Canva Photos

What about hiring people with disabilities? In 1990s Canada, it was quite common to hire people with disabilities. The question then becomes: How can we hire people with disabilities and get beyond the perception that they are not able to function like you and me?

Then of course comes the topic that popped into my mind in the first place: LGBTQ+ or people with different sexual orientations.

Perhaps you, too, have biases. I hope to stimulate some thinking here so that you look at this topic from a different perspective. Let’s start with some definitions.

Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people. It’s about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin.  It allows for the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, nurturing environment. It means understanding one another by moving beyond simple tolerance to ensuring people truly value their differences.

Inclusion is appreciating our differences where different groups or individuals with different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed.

One of our clients eloquently described D&I as “first and foremost a leadership task,” stipulating that “diversity without inclusion is worthless!”

Inclusion strategist Vernā Myers puts it in simple terms:“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

I have a client who works for a well-known tech giant and although the organization globally had drafted D&I strategy and policies a few years ago, locally they still needed some help to move the needle and get the whole team involved.

As an aspiring woman leader, she told me that she had joined a few D&I committees but getting help from headquarters was “hit and miss” in two specific areas: allyships and micro messages.

Allyships are quite simply gathering allies or people within an organization with a similar mindset and program. In this case, my client was tasked to make sure that more women were included in the hiring process and not overlooked when it came to promotions at senior levels.

Then the right allies with a few, well-crafted messages (micro-messages) help everyone get beyond initial perceptions, as was the case for me personally.

But why should we concern ourselves with D&I?

I’ve enjoyed getting up to speed with articles from McKinsey & Company. In one they say: “The likelihood of higher profitability in companies with culturally diverse boards is at least 36% higher, in other words, diverse teams are more able to target new lucrative markets.”

My marketing self wholeheartedly agrees with this. If you’re not part of a specific culture and hence do not understand the nuances and peculiarities of a culture it becomes difficult to understand their buying behavior. By having people in your team that represent a cross-section of these cultures, they can confirm quickly whether the product or service you’re introducing to the market will be adopted by a particular culture.

McKinsey also tells us that “Companies are 25% more likely to be successful than average if they have women in top management.” Getting back to my example of bosses in Canada, they were, in fact, in top management.

How to kickstart the D&I process within your organization

diversity and inclusion
Photo: Canva Photos

Kickstarting the process in your organization is not a very complex process. It doesn’t require technical skills but rather an openness to new cultures, thinking beyond the box, and having a flexible mindset. Part of my initial learning started with my German partner, ICUnet, who has successfully established strategies and ongoing initiatives for the last 20 years with well-known brands such as  BMW, Volkswagen, Metro, Allianz, Beiersdorf, and Audi.

The process is quite simple and includes five steps:

Step 1: A systemic needs assessment answers the question: Why D&I?

In this first step, we look at creating a target picture, defining the objectives, and clarifying your understanding of why D&I is important within your organization. Then we conduct a quick stakeholder analysis to understand how people feel about D&I.

Step 2: A situation analysis answers the question: Where do we stand? In this step, we assess how the organization stands concerning D&I.  We analyze the corporate culture and identify the interactions that have occurred within the system. Then we look at challenges and success factors to consider when rolling out a D&I strategy.

Step 3: The action plan answers the question: What do we need to do now?

Here, we include a road map or a definition of the measures and initiatives that are required, along with goals, milestones, and KPIs, as well as a communication plan.

Step 4: Implementation is simply about doing it!

Here we look at implementing the measures in defined fields of action, explore change management initiatives undertaken in the past, and develop an evaluation of measures.

Step 5.  Success control and sustainability checks whether we have reached our goals. What methods of continuous improvement are we using? How is the communication flow going? Is the measure sustainable?

All this may sound a bit overwhelming, but it’s not. Once you get beyond the strategy and understand what’s required, the next logical step is communication.

This is accomplished by training top management on the topics of D&I, cascading it down to all levels of the team with a train-the-trainer program, providing support for inclusion ambassadors, offering shadowing opportunities, conducting employee surveys, and of course, creating allyships and micro messages. It’s doable!

Like any soft skill development, it may require some diligence, time, and patience till the team becomes aware of the importance of D&I and its corresponding benefits.

My quest for information has paid off in dividends. The more I demonstrated the attitude of an apt pupil for D&I, the faster I saw its benefits. So if you ask me now, I’d say yes… I can teach it!

Visit my website for more details about how we can assist you with your D&I strategy and initiatives:

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