Organizations have had diversity, inclusion and equity departments for a better part of two decades. While much of the focus in our workplaces has been on the varying definitions of diversity, there has been inaction or very little action towards inclusion and equity. So how can organizations move towards inclusion and equity? We must look at the present state of diversity.
Diversity isn’t about the cultural theatrics of hosting a “Caribbean Day” or a “Filipino Day” at our workplaces or sporting events. Nor is it about “improving the numbers of traditionally underrepresented people in your workplace”. It does not provide benefits as Ely & Thomas mention in their Harvard Business Review article Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough Already with the Business Case. Furthermore, taking a “diversity and stir” approach while continuing business as usual will not spur leaps into your organizations’ financial performance or effectiveness. What matters is how an organization harnesses diversity and it’s willing to disrupt the power structure.
Sarah Mayorga, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University concluded that diversity was an ideology that enables whites to superficially commit to achieving racial justice. She states diversity dictates that intentions only really matter as opposed to outcomes and taking specific actions towards inclusion and equity. Diversity becomes about inclusion and tolerance yet not having the uncomfortable conversation of how one group is systemically privileged over another.
Mayorga mentions that diversity is a held as a commodity and pluralistic in that the latter tends to focus on representation rather than equity. There must be discussions on how equity relates to an organization’s values and culture. It is about naming oppression and racial harm, especially Anti-Black racism, in the first place rather than avoiding it.
What areas must leaders focus on?
Moving towards equity for organizations must have has multiple actions – class, building a cohesive culture, role-playing, expression, actively working against discrimination and subordination, and being open to different cultural communication styles.
Don’t be afraid to discuss social class
First, organizational leaders must talk about anti-racism and class simultaneously. The first point is obvious because it identifies the structural racism that exists and looks at ways to address it head on. The second characteristic is not so obvious to many because diversity tends to solely be focused on race, gender and ability.
In Ingram’s article The Forgotten Dimension of Diversity, “a person’s social class origins leave a cultural imprint that has a lasting effect, even if the individual gains money and status later in life”. Ingram states, for example, that those from lower-class origins are 32% less likely to become manager than those that come from higher origins.
There is a class disadvantage in management. Research has shown that representation from equity-seeking groups among their managerial peers produces more effective advocacy. Inherited privilege in the promotion process can therefore be a source of long-lasting inequities.
From an organizational perspective, while companies like Google, Facebook established employee resource groups to support employees from underrepresented groups but none mention social class.
Building a Cohesive Culture
Workers from lower social classes are more likely than those from higher ones, as Ingram posits, to “understand that their outcomes and responsibilities in the organization are interdependent with those of the people around them. Therefore, organizational culture can be strengthened by implementing strategies of social active inclusion. An example from Ingram’s article where one organization, Televerde, introduces employees to the organization through an intense socialization process. The process promotes values of caring for people, trust and courage to change, which resonates to those with social class origins.
Second, Ingram mentions role playing works to build organizational culture that support and integrate workers from lower social class origins. When those transitioning between classes, they can offer guidance to new employees from lower social classes and can make up the know-how deficit.
Third, leaders should be building trust where people can express themselves freely. This reminded me of a recent TEDx video from Jodi-Ann Burey where she states why you should not bring your authentic self to worth.
Near the end of the video, Burey stated:
Black people don’t need to be any more authentic. I will not be bringing my immigrant, disabled authentic self to work. Those of you with the power of position and the protection of your Whiteness and other societal privileges that are not earned to take that risk instead. Close the gap between what you say and how we are treated. We are told that we are to bring our whole authentic selves to the workplace.
Many publicly expressed their support for Black Lives Matter. They posted “blackout” images or posted books on Instagram promising to educate themselves on the oppression Black and other people of colour face on a regular basis, but not truly listening to their lived experiences or doing anything about it. Many fear that speaking truth to power would appear biased against whites. Instead Ruchika Tulshyan states to invite buy-in from Blacks and people of colour and listen with humility. All-white panels at conferences or in meetings to discuss racial equity is not the answer. Listen to those with the lived experiences then demonstrate how you’ve taken action.
Actively working against discrimination and subordination.
We need to confront the relationship between class and race when moving towards inclusion and equity. Leaders must learn how privilege and systems of oppression – racism, ableism, classism – operate in the wider culture. Educating themselves is on step towards transformational change. The other, as Ely and Thomas mention, is for leaders to use their personal experience to spur collective learning and systemic change. But those efforts stall. This “nervousness”that Susan T Gooden mentions in her book Race and Social Equity: A Nervousness in Government is what stifles progress.
As Gooden states in her book “it is the racial equity commitment of senior leadership that shapes and defines organizational culture, provided socialization to employees across the agency, and establishes clear norms and expectations of racial equity performance and accountability” (p 190-1).
Be open to a broad range of styles
We are aware of the stereotypes. The meek Asian woman who is told to speak up. A Black man who is told to smile more. A Latina woman who speaks with passion as someone who is too loud. Leaders who create trust and break down those barriers of discrimination, embraced the broad range of styles
Diversity must move past the business case and its pluralistic definition. Getting to equity is a long process with plenty of mistakes to be made throughout. These mistakes have been happening for the past two decades. There will be challenges from the status quo. Those who are the privileged, higher class few. In the end, organizations must innovate or they die. There are clear economic, psychological and societal benefits for organizations to become more equitable. The reckoning is here and the path to equity is surmountable, but only if leaders are willing to work to bring transformational and adaptive change towards equity.