Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Diversity, Inclusion and Progress in the Workplace – What Does It Take?

It’s fascinating what people say and do in reaction to initiatives to ensure a more inclusive workplace. Perhaps some of the naysayers who call these things “special treatment” believe that if we simply stop visibly mistreating marginalized groups, then we’ve made all the progress that’s necessary.

Privilege Comes with Blinders

I’ve been struck by the backlash to Dalhousie University’s efforts to be a more inclusive employer, for example. The University is attempting to address biases so ingrained in the system that merely “opening the door” for job applications does not guarantee the balance of hiring better reflects the student population.

If you still read the newspaper – in print or online – have a look at some of the letters in the Chronicle Herald on Dalhousie’s recent job posting. They are interesting and telling. To me, the thing they most reveal is: those in a position of privilege cannot easily put themselves in the shoes of those who are not. There is research that proves this. See the article in The Guardian about workplace equality or the one in Scientific American about wealth and compassion. (Spoiler alert: they seem to have an inverse relationship!)

There are two ways this is relevant to the workplace, in my experience:

  • We cannot presume to understand the experiences of others. We need to engage employees and other stakeholders in conversations to make well-informed decisions. No matter the best intentions, “we don’t know, what we don’t know.” That’s why it’s so critical to collaborate within organizations!
  • We need to have an open and humble mind to keep learning: from other people, their experiences and their knowledge. It’s especially important if you’re in a position of power, including power inherent to being born to a certain family, place, race or gender. Or the power of being a CEO, executive or even a manager.

Turn Mistakes into Learning

More than ten years ago, while on a course, I used what I thought was a harmless and funny phrase. Boy was I wrong! I was mortified to find out the real origin of the phrase – and to have it pointed out in front of others. But my feelings probably paled in comparison to the person I demeaned – however unintentionally. I’m forever grateful for the lesson she taught me in humility, history and understanding.

No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.

~ Michelle Obama

There are days when I feel discouraged and wonder if things are getting worse. But when I give it more thought, I think the unfair and uncalled for actions of the privileged are being brought into the light, thanks to movements such as MeToo and Black Lives Matter. It will look worse for a while, as we become more aware of the issues and work through how to address them. Then, with work, hope and conscious effort, we’ll see improvements. In time, these topics may be discussed less because of progress, rather than because wrongs are being swept under the carpet.

Viola Desmond Is Someone to Celebrate!

I’m also thrilled that Viola Desmond will grace the new Canadian $10 bill. She’s the first “non-royal” woman on a regularly circulating Canadian bill as well as the first black person. Maybe she’s even the first female entrepreneur! Canada is 150: let’s hope the next one will come much sooner! Check it out.