Diversity and inclusion have become so important to businesses in recent years that there are now specialised Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) training programs. While it is frequently emphasised that diversity and inclusion are crucial to creating a healthy work environment, their tangible benefits are often overlooked. Not only do they create a more accepting environment for employees, but they also drive market growth and foster a more creative workforce for the employers.
Diversity and Inclusion: What It Is
While the two concepts are often mentioned simultaneously, they do not mean the same thing. Rather, they complement each other. Diversity means representation of different religions, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations while inclusion is the process of ensuring that everyone has equal say, equal value, and equal rights regardless of their background.
The history of diversity in the workplace dates back to at least the 1950’s when more women began joining the workforce, and in doing so began to face workplace discrimination. In the simplest terms, whenever a new group joins the domain or territory of another group, there will be conflict which often results in discrimination.
Every societal change is often accompanied by backlash. The key is to understand what each one of us can do to make our environment more inclusive and diverse. No where else than in societies with diverse ethnicities, such as Singapore, is this issue more pressing. With three main ethnicities and various religions comprising the workforce and nearly 30% of the population being foreign, ensuring that diversity is given the weight that it deserves is essential.
Diversity and Inclusion: Why Should You Care
Lack of D&I in the workplace affects both employees and employers. When it comes to the employees, they may experience a more hostile and discriminatory work environment, higher employee turnover, and poor mental health. This is the side that we often hear about. What we don’t discuss as often is how this affects the employers.
Employers also suffer from lack of diversity in the workplace. A more diverse and inclusive workplace translates into increased creativity and performance from employees. This isn't a concept that is entirely foreign to us. We often turn to many sources for help and advice when making a difficult decision. This is in a sense an example of us looking for diversity of opinions, the very same thing that makes companies more successful.
In addition, diversity of backgrounds can help employers reach more people, translating into a larger market share. Lastly, when decisions are made with diverse opinions expressed, they tend to be better-informed and more successful. Reduced employee turnover is another benefit of an inclusive workplace.
4 Tips on How To Promote Diversity at Work... and Everywhere Else
Now that we know what D&I means and why it matters, let's discuss some tips on helping you promote it in your daily life. Whether you are an employer or an employee, there are certain things most diversity courses have in common that we can all try to practice. We will break these down into three parts: understanding yourself, understanding others, and communication.
Step 1: Understand Yourself This means the ability to analyse your strengths and weaknesses, your faults, blind spots, and unconscious biases. You need to question your behavior and your beliefs to make sure that you are not driven to make decisions based on unconscious bias. The easiest way to test whether you are treating someone unfairly is by putting yourself in their shoes. Another way is to imagine the person that you get along with in place of the colleague that you don't get along with, and ask yourself why you treat the two coworkers differently.
If it comes down to personality differences or disagreements about your work styles, that is understandable. But if the answer lies in that person's background, ethnicity, religion or gender, then this is something you need to adress. It is also important to remember that discrimination is not limited to the above-mentioned factors. Unequal treatment based on who someone is rather than how they behave is the best way to understand discrimination.
Step 2: Understand Others Understanding others means understanding what makes another person different from you and how that may inform your treatment of them. In other words, remaining aware of how they are different and what their sensitivities and biases could be and how their previous experiences may have affected their current behavior.
Step 3: Communicate Communication is about putting the previous two concepts together, in order to remain as unbiased and as sensitive to other people's differences as possible. Remain aware of what your preconceived notions are, try to eliminate them when communicating with others, and do your best to approach every situation and person with equal treatment no matter who they are. Creating a more diverse workplace goes beyond regulation and hiring initiatives. At the end of the day, it is up to us to live up to the principles we stand for.
Step 4: Reinforce Change When trying to implement any kind of change, employing change management strategies can be of use. Most will focus on understanding the need for change, having the desire and ability to make it happen, and finally reinforcing it. Since most changes can succeed in the short-term, the difficulty lies in the process of making the change last.
This is exactly why reinforcement is a very important step of lasting change. Put in place processes that will measure success of the change, reward change with positive feedback and keep mechanisms simple enough that they will stick. This can be anything from simply asking your colleagues for feedback on how welcome they feel at work (measure success of change), complimenting your colleagues when you see them, trying to be more sensitive and welcoming towards others (reward change), and remaining persistent enough to encourage others to also take steps in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.
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