Let’s be honest: Your company has probably been accused at some point of doing a poor job managing diversity in the workplace.
Many organizations are not very good at it. Most hadn’t been thinking much about it before this year. And all of them are trying to avoid being dragged by online critics for their reluctance/inability/abject refusal to take the matter seriously. It’s one of the great themes from the Year Of The Coronavirus that we can all agree is taking place (even if we don’t agree with the argument’s basic assumptions).
An approach that focuses on equity in conjunction with access takes a more comprehensive pathway to diversity and inclusion
You may think there’s a lot of sound and fury on diversity and inclusion (D&I), and that the problems are being overhyped and overblown. However, companies are being judged right now on how well and how quickly they respond. The environment cares nothing for Doubting Thomases. Action is being demanded of your company while your competitors are heeding the call.
You don’t need to ‘create’ diversity at work
In 2020, corporate entities and not-for-profit organizations across North America became painfully aware that, generally speaking, they were doing a questionable job of accurately reflecting their communities in their workforces. Though some had previously made at least token efforts at addressing diversity and inclusion, the imperative to get on the right side of the issue ramped up significantly after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd.
The pressure to implement policies that help to create more respectful and inclusive workplaces rapidly cranked up to uncomfortable levels.
Do you have the resources you need to create and execute a comprehensive company-wide plan?
Leaders have finally come to understand that their companies already have tremendous diversity in their personnel. How workers define their identity is as unique to each of them as their fingerprints. For example, a team made up entirely of people of the same race will have people of different genders, gender identities, family statuses, physical and mental abilities, ethnicities, religions, etc. in the group.
Diversity is a given at work. Full stop.
The real question becomes how it’s managed.
Diversity is a state of being. Inclusion is about being in the best state.
Many people confuse diversity and inclusion or consider the two terms to be interchangeable. This is a serious error that will cause problems down the road unless you can distinguish between them and act accordingly.
While diversity is a given at work, inclusion is something that companies have to work hard at fostering and preserving in their workplaces.
To do this, four critical functional elements for providing an inclusive work environment must be addressed:
- Operations: Company policies, procedures, systems, technologies, physical plant, financial controls, etc.;
- Leadership: Supervisory interpersonal conduct, clarity of mission, effectiveness of meetings, openness to feedback, performance evaluation, managing expectations, mentorship, coaching, etc.;
- Culture: Work-life balance, employee social engagement and interactivity, worker benefits packages, team-building activities, on-site amenities, team cohesion, respectful communication between peers, etc.; and
- Talent: Recruitment methods, retention strategy, compensation, opportunities for promotion, succession planning, continuing education support, training, secondments, upskilling, etc.
When companies operate with inclusion for their workers in all their diversity at the forefront of their planning, they are much more likely to have a magnetic culture that attracts and retains top talent while producing a steady stream of leadership excellence both internally and in the company’s industry more broadly.
However, before effective planning can result in optimal participation, your company must handle the intermediate steps that take you from there to here — how they deal with policy, programming and place.
In other words, the key to closing the loop that inextricably binds diversity to inclusion is learning to understand the importance of equity and access to the overall process.
Equity becomes possible only when access is prioritized for everyone
The journey from recognizing and valuing diversity to creating and maintaining a truly inclusive workplace is paved by access.
In many ways, companies are missing the boat on D&I because the necessity and importance of accessibility is treated as a completely separate matter. Your company may have an officer specifically tasked with managing accessibility issues and/or you may have an accessibility policy framework that is not explicitly linked to D&I. This is because accessibility can sometimes be narrowly thought of as ramps to building entrances and wheelchair buttons to open doors — in other words, as physical rather than occupational access.
Most physical and mental disabilities/challenges are invisible. Therefore, if your company wants a more equitable work environment it must cultivate greater sensitivity to the imperatives of access.
How workers define their identity is as unique to each of them as their fingerprints
Your accessibility policies should take into consideration a wide range of challenges, such as sensory deficits (i.e. with hearing or sight), mental health, and auditory/visual processing challenges, in addition to physical mobility, manipulation, and ergonomics.
Each employee has to feel like they can experience all functional elements of their work environment in essentially the same fashion as everyone else. That’s when your workplace truly offers equitable access. Then, and only then, is inclusivity possible for all workers.
An approach that focuses on equity in conjunction with access takes a more comprehensive pathway to diversity and inclusion. Put another way, a company’s operations, leadership, culture and talent mesh best when inclusion of internal diversity is attained using an equity lens informed by the principles of accessibility.
The workplace becomes more cohesive, harmonious, productive, constructive, and attractive. Avenues for effective communication are open and well used. Conflicts and disagreements can be quickly sorted out. A sense of belonging takes hold for everyone who shares the space and participates in achieving the objectives of the business.
How do you get there? Consider the following:
- Review your planning, policy, and programs and apply an equity lens to your operations and leadership. Are there aspects of how you do things that can be improved? How well do you incorporate best practices from your industry? Have you been celebrating your wins?
- Take a closer look at how you manage your talent acquisition and retention. Have you developed any blind spots? Are you operating on assumptions about your people that may not be true? What can your team tell you about the attractiveness of your workplace to prospective hires?
- Examine the cultural dynamics in your workplace between peer groups and across the full spectrum of responsibility, from the CEO down to entry level. Are there areas of friction? How can you enlist your people to help you improve? What can you learn from what’s going right that can be more broadly implemented in other areas of the company?
- How do you manage inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility? Do you have a unified approach or are various aspects managed by different people, or even by different departments? Do you have the resources you need to create and execute a comprehensive company-wide plan?
Creating an effective plan for diversity and inclusion has never been more important, nor more topical, in North American workplaces. However, your company will benefit even more if it provides your D&I efforts with an EA — an effective approach to equity with accessibility at its core.
For business in the third decade of the 21st century, that’s the best IDEA of all for the modern work environment: inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible.
Greg Frankson is a former Canadian national poetry slam champion with words published in collections, anthologies, audiovisual recordings and literary journals. He was the poet laureate for the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership and an on-air current affairs poetic commentator for CBC Radio One.