by Roslina Chai, Managing Director, Catalyse Consulting and Ranjana Sabu, Content Creator
It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. Bringing diversity of thought, shaped by dissimilar perspectives – be it culture, education, gender, or age – to the workplace is critical to be relevant in today’s world.
Reports indicate there is progress, though there is much to be achieved. As companies set in place policies and processes to expand perspectives and enrich their identities, let’s take a look at some of the challenges they encounter, and how to navigate it.
Rachel W. has been working with a technology firm as an assistant project lead for three years. She is one of the 12 women recruited as part of the firm’s commitment to increasing diversity within the organization. While she has never faced any overt discrimination, Rachel feels she is never fully included in the team. Her male reportees often reach out to other male project leads for input, bypassing her. “I often feel I’ve walked in halfway through a conversation,” she says. “It’s like they’re continuing a discussion they started elsewhere.” Rachel is reluctant to bring it up with her manager, “I don’t want him to think I’m telling tales or sound like I’m in the school yard, not allowed to play.”
Experiences such as Rachel’s are legion across companies where the initiative stops with merely changing the demographic profile of employees. Mere representation of different ethnicities or religions or gender is never enough. To fully unlock the potential of diversity, there needs to be a deep commitment on the part of the organization to ensure that those who are brought in for their voice find the organization willing to listen.
Implementing a successful diversity strategy is a complex endeavour and one that each organization needs to calibrate for itself based on its own identity and priorities.
Evaluate: The concept of a truly diverse work environment may mean different things to different organizations. Understanding where you are as an organization on the spectrum and what perspectives you need to welcome would help you craft more targeted and meaningful interventions. Set clear objectives of what this program is meant to yield and co-create a roadmap to get there. Leadership needs to position the program as the organization’s priority and not metrics for HR to achieve. More importantly, it needs to demonstrate the authenticity of the commitment, by leveraging company communication channels to consistently report milestones and keep the principles underpinning the program visibly at the forefront.
Empower your people: There needs to be a recognition of the fact that this journey is not necessarily a smooth one. When instituting changes that significantly alter the way people are used to thinking and interacting, disagreements and discontent are bound to surface. It’s important to make available systems to equip your people with the conversational, behavioural and mindset skills to manage conflict. Explore mechanisms you can set in place for employees to feel confident about speaking up without fear of reprisals or being marginalised. Additionally, there needs to be protocol in place to ensure that there is responsible use of these platforms, visible acknowledgement of issues raised short process cycles for resolution.
Exemplify: In the context of a newly diverse team, seeing company leadership tangibly making time and effort to engage can often prove the fastest and most effective method to validate the program. It is not enough to bring diversity to the table – you need to share the mike. Cascading this, encourage mid management and team leaders to demonstrate how critical it is to draw in and involve newer members in group environments. It can be as simple as listening often, making sure people who are not fluent in the language business is conducted and/or have an accent, are heard and acknowledged or calling on silent participants to share their opinion thereby giving them visibility and voice.
People are multidimensional. They are more than the sum of their gender, race or ethnicity and age. To truly channel the energy and wealth of their experience, organizations need to facilitate an open working environment where every employee feels a sense of belonging and knows that their voice is truly valued. Diversity at the workplace cannot be a one-time campaign – it necessitates an ongoing commitment to continually self-examine and adjust the organizational climate to be effective.
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