A recent Harvard Business Review article got me thinking about who is responsible for raising awareness of diversity in the workplace.
The article described a scenario whereby an employee voices her frustration at the introduction of a new law that will affect her as a minority group member. When her colleague asks what makes the new law so bad, she responds: “Google it.”
Arguably, the responsibility of educating others on diversity shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of the minority, but if someone is willing to learn, should the door be closed in their face? How do you create a diversity aware workplace where everyone feels able to – and willing to – share experiences and learn from each other?
To cultivate a culture of equality an organisation must live and breathe the values of respect and inclusion, and a good place to start is with visibility of diversity at the top. Does your Board include people from a variety of backgrounds, genders, ages and ethnicities?
Championing diversity from the top down, as well as ensuring your organisation’s values and commitments to inclusivity are communicated publicly, are effective ways the C-suite can demonstrate to their employees and clients that they don’t intend to just talk the talk.
When it comes to implementing these commitments, managers take a lead role. For employees to share their views and experiences, they need to feel confident that they have a voice and that they will be heard.
Michele Meyer-Shipp, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at KPMG, says managers can cultivate this culture by “getting comfortable being uncomfortable”; being prepared to ask questions, to listen and to call out those who veer from your inclusivity values.
In order to do so, managers must also create an environment where their team feel empowered to share ideas and opinions, and assured they won’t be punished for mistakes – otherwise known as providing psychological safety.
Making simple, practical adjustments is another way managers can demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity; such as offering flexible working hours for new parents or a private space for prayer. These little things could mean a great deal to an individual and support them in reaching their full potential.
Providing proactive training for all employees is essential for promoting inclusive thinking and attitudes. Equality and diversity laws are updated regularly so training sessions should not be limited to just once in the lifespan of each employee.
I’m reminded of the case of Starbucks who last year closed 8,000 stores across the US for one day so staff could undertake “bias training”. The coffee giant introduced the training as a reaction to an employee calling the police when two black men had asked to use the bathroom without purchasing anything.
While many praised Starbucks for its bold action, an equal number denounced the training day as a crisis management stunt and questioned whether one session was really adequate enough. Nonetheless, react Starbucks did.
As well as training, providing mechanisms for people to confidently communicate their concerns, such as workplace mentors/allies, an anonymous reporting hotline or feedback surveys, is another vital element of HR’s support.
Ultimately, we all – no matter our position – have a responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues that affect us and the people around us.
A seemingly innocuous news item to you, such as the one that provoked the scenario above, could create real change in the lives of your colleagues; for example, amendments to national immigration status rules, gender pay gap reporting or maternity/paternity rights.
But, most importantly, we all have a responsibility to keep the lines of communication open. Ask questions and invite questions. Share experiences and engage in open discussion.
If this has got you thinking about the diversity and inclusion training you provide at your organisation and want further advice on the support available, Tell Jane is a great place to start. Simply contact me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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