Diversity programs and diligent HR departments can do a lot to make sure that diversity is part of governance, HR policies, and any supporting structures. But inclusion is something that has to be embedded into the culture.
“If efforts in ‘inclusion’ aren’t made, then diversity risks falling into tokenism. Inclusivity is the cultural commitment in an organization that ensures an equitable and inclusive acceptance and full integration of the perspectives and experiences of everyone — including women, people of colour and individuals from the LGBTQ community, as examples.” — Leah Oliveira
Diversity is Hard
It’s important to acknowledge there is a cost to diversity. But it’s far more important not to overemphasize or overreact to that cost.
I am a first generation American coming from British and German parents. As such, I have a huge economic and social benefit, simply from being born white (and tall).
While inclusive diversity seems like hard work, hard can’t be an excuse for inaction.
In a diverse room, we are much more likely to make a joke that offends someone. Our hidden biases will be exposed. White men like me in particular may occasionally look like racist, sexist jerks.
It’s hard to recognize these unconscious biases. It’s hard to admit fault. It’s hard to take another perspective. We are not in a “post-racial” world.
I have said things in jest that I did not realize were offensive or used racially charged language. I have a mental library devoted to completely unacceptable jokes that I learned in my childhood that I can’t ever unlearn.
It took others to point some of the things I’ve said to me before I could even recognize the issue (and apologize for it). These are things that, looking back, I’m ashamed of.
The subconscious anxiety that comes with sharing some small sliver of power may cause some additional tension in our fragile psyches.
Privilege runs deep and there will absolutely be discomfort for those like myself who have benefited from institutionalized power relations. But the gains for our companies and our communities from putting in the effort to incorporate inclusivity into everyday corporate culture are worth it.
The loss of privilege isn’t a loss. It is not a zero-sum game. Inclusive diversity grows the pie for everyone, opening up additional opportunities for ideation and innovation.
Diversity is Hard for Everyone
Recognizing our own biases is not solely a problem for white men. Everyone holds biases — even those we may not expect. Some studies show even women hold sexist biases against women, and black people have racial biases against people of color.
It’s weird, and it sucks that we are so at the mercy of our own brains. There is a huge amount of cultural indoctrination and probably biases built right into our genes to help us prioritize our familial genes’ survival over the “others.”
Even just talking about diversity can cause an immediate backlash for some, and we risk being ignored and accused of arbitrary “political correctness.”
This is not a question of blame or fault. The historical blame is exceedingly clear, and there is only one side to it. This is a question of recognizing that we all must contribute to the solution together.
If we looked at an employee survey we might find that increased diversity actually lowered employee satisfaction. But lower morale does not mean lower performance. Conflict and dissent can lead to better decision-making. Or, just having someone new with a different background can lead better decision-making.
Diversity is hard. It will be hard work from everyone. But hard is not an excuse to abandon the greatest thing we can do to not only increase the amount of justice in the world but also our ability to innovate.
There is no perfect answer on how to increase and leverage diversity. I am not an expert in the subject. But the need is urgent.
It may seem like a minor difference now. But if diversity can be a multiplier for innovation, we cannot afford to be even 1 percent behind our competition. Because in a year, that 1 percent might be 2 percent, then 4 percent, then 8 percent, then 16 percent. Later is too late.
1. Start Early
If we’re an early-stage company looking to grow, address diversity today. It will get harder over time.
2. Measure Diversity
If we’re not measuring it, we won’t improve it. Imitating an ostrich is adorable but ultimately will not help the bottom line.
We have to measure diversity across the funnel, including acquiring and retaining diversity. Some companies like Atlassian share best practices, and there are initiatives such as Project Include, which provides a playbook of practices to help companies get started.