Uttering the phrase ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ (D&I) can strike fear into the hearts of management. Having roots in the Equalities Act, the term is linked to protecting minorities, but is often associated purely with compliance. It can also arouse the perception that it excludes the majority, as much as including the minority. For things to move forward, this has to change.
Over the last thirty years, ‘Human Resource Management’ has moved into the mainstream, so more of the responsibility for people has moved from personnel functions to line managers and executives themselves. This has put them on the front line. So what relevance does D&I have for executives and managers?
To start with, we should think of it as difference, not D&I. We are all different, we think, speak, react and manage differently. Creating an inclusive (in short ‘open’ and ‘supportive’) culture means recognising this, but executives and line managers also need to understand their own approach to difference as leaders and respond in the most effective way.
The advent of training that focuses on leadership and inclusion– from day courses, to weekend retreats and full-blown MBAs — is welcome, but how much time does this give participants to reflect on what they have studied and put into practice what they have learnt? If there is no clear output or practical follow-up from a training course, how do you measure whether this has had an impact?
When it comes to difference, considering how we deal with difference in our own personal lives gives us some valuable clues. Outside work, most people rarely spend time with people or communities who are different (which could be based on their race, colour, educational status, family situation, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, or approach to life). When you have the chance to meet people and really get to know them, biases and stereotypes tend to give way to shared understanding. There’s nothing like a personal experience, rather than class-based learning, to really help you understand yourself and others.
So to really understand and support employees, managers and leaders should allocate some of their time to working with people from diverse perspectives — it can really open their eyes to what matters, as well as give a practical insight into their own leadership style.
The key to D&I is to focus on understanding and encouraging a diverse workforce, accepting difference takes on many forms, but not forgetting that inclusion and employee engagement are for everyone.
So getting involved, experiencing working with people who have different perspectives and then reflecting on what’s been learnt are what’s really needed. It’s the basis of human nature.
Patrick Voss is a founding director of Radius, which works with companies to highlight the value of bringing a focus on difference, inclusion and engagement to the core of their businesses.