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Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work. ~ Andres Tapia
As a young black male working in a large corporate organization where I am part of the minority group, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is not only relevant to my everyday work-life but form an important part of my professional experience.
Over the last couple of years, I have been quite fortunate to have had several private conversations around the topic, especially with close associates working in different organizations. And as it turns out, my experiences have not been unique as there are many others like myself who are in similar situations and share similar experiences – in different organizations, business entities or societies. But while I have for a long time harbored the thought of openly sharing my perspective on the subject and how it is shaping my professional journey, it has turned out to be one of the hardest topics to write about until now.
Why has it been difficult to write about Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)?
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr
I think the D&I conversation has not always been easy to “openly” discuss particularly when I realized that the subject requires a broader understanding which is far more encompassing of race, gender, and sexual orientation. For instance, while diversity does to a large extent encompasses race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status or physical disability; inclusion, on the other hand, entails much more as it encompasses how much the presence and perspectives all members of the aforementioned categories are acknowledged, valued and integrated.
Recognizing the different forms of diversity and meaning of inclusion, I often became challenged with how best to cohesively articulate the subjects without oversimplifying them. Hence, I was really excited to listen to Lorenz Narku Laing address one of my biggest challenge around the topic when he said;
it can be easy to fall into a pitfall of narrowing the topic of diversity to mean black lives matter or gender…
Listening to Narku navigate the subject did not only provide me with a broader spectrum of D&I, but the needed motivation to put pen to paper and finally write this article.
Who is Lorenz Narku Laing?
Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers. ~ Josh Bersin
So, about a weeks ago, I received a message from Camila Chaudron who is responsible for organizing the Siemens Speakers Series and thought I would be interested in a recent session which featured Lorenz Narku Laing. In that session, Narku spoke about communicating diversity and discussed the risks of ignoring diversity in communication, why diversity can help to improve communication and what to look out for when communicating diversity.
As I went through the session, I realized that Narku´s views on the subject resonated with my personal observations and experience. He began by pointing out that especially after the black lives matter movement in the US, there has been a new recognition of the relevance for businesses to fight discrimination in everyday life, and for business leaders to openly talk about diversity and discrimination.
I agree with Narku that D&I has become one of the hottest topics within many organizations. And particularly in the face of the Covid-19 crisis and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, several corporations are coming out boldly to make pledges towards integrating D&I into their organizational fabric.
And while these pledges have been noble “corporate” efforts, I believe that they have been long overdue notably when we take into account reports like the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey which revealed that among the Fortune 500 companies, only 24 CEOs are women, which represents just 5% of the total number of CEOs, and among the 500 CEOs, only three are black, another three are openly gay, and one identifies as a lesbian.
Narku did also observe that it can be easy to fall into a pitfall of narrowing the topic of D&I to mean race, gender, or sexual orientation, and that although addressing the challenges of D&I requires corporate action, we as individuals within corporate organizations have a role to play as;
we have a specific perspective from which we speak from and experience life from, which are oftentimes not innocent.
His observation highlights on another salient point that is often times not considered in the conversation about diversity and inclusion – the conscious and unconscious biases we hold on an individual level, and which to a great extent does play a significant role in significantly influencing corporate culture and efforts. Although not many of us openly acknowledge or realize this, it can to a large extent be one of the biggest setbacks to D&I initiatives on a corporate level.
What are our Classical Biases?
We hire the best candidate and SHE is out there. ~ Steve Moroski
According to Narku, some of the classical biases we hold include:
- Visibility biases: This is a situation where we look to fulfil our stereotypes. Practically, if we look for MEN for leadership roles, we will find MEN. Alternatively, if we look for WOMEN or BLACK PEOPLE within our organizations to take up leadership roles, we will also find them.
2. Similarity attraction paradigm: This is a situation where we perceive people who are very common to us or share a lot of our identities to be more attractive and interesting. As Narku concludes here;
very often, we try to create a world that is common to ours, which can be a very big mistake as the majority of people on earth do not live in our world.
At the end of the session, I became even more convinced that it would not just require corporate level initiatives and actions to advance D&I, but that we all as individuals and stakeholders within our various organizations need to play our part to help shift the goal post. Or in the words of Lorenz Narku Laing;
to create a world, where less people face discrimination, where more people are included, where more people are willing to interact with people who are different than them.
As always, I am glad to get your take on the topic and how do you think we can achieve a more diverse workforce where people feel valued and included.