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One of our advisers, Soreya Senior, shared some insight with us on D&I and the importance of making it a part of your cultural strategy. Soreya has a vast background in HR, and regularly talks about Diversity and Inclusion within the Biotech space.
Tokenism by definition is the effort of including a token employee to create the impression of social inclusiveness, and to deflect accusations of discrimination. Tokenism, in its own way, is the way to transform over time into a truly diverse and inclusive business. The changes are incremental: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Often businesses will need to make token hires to kickstart their D&I initiative, and then transform into a more cohesive way of working towards becoming more diverse and inclusive.
A lot of businesses assume that because they have a certain number of individuals of a particular race, religion, ability or social class they have achieved diversity in their business.
Unfortunately, this is a finite view to have. Having an infinite mindset when it comes to D&I means that even in five, ten, fifteen or twenty years you should still have D&I as a part of your cultural strategy. People within businesses change constantly, so it’s crucial to ensure that you are continuously teaching the ‘new gen’ of people in your business how D&I is ingrained into your values and culture.
Take this as an example, if your culture was built on flexible working, and you spent eighteen months slowly transitioning members of the team to remote working 1-2 days a week – you wouldn’t then say at the end of the eighteen months “great, we’ve achieved remote working; everybody back in the office tomorrow”.
That’s the equivalent of hiring a D&I leader to evoke change and then again, feeding into the notion of it being a necessary evil. Take Monzo for example: In June 2020 their Head of Diversity and Inclusion publicly announced that she was at risk of redundancy – does Monzo truly have an infinite mindset when it comes to D&I? Or, did they see it as a necessary evil?
For a lot of companies, D&I is a tick box exercise. A way to tip the needle of the data scale positively, showing the outside world that a business is inclusive.
A lot of people look at D&I as a necessary evil, when in reality it’s giving people equal opportunities and finding the brightest brains and best thinkers based on their technical and soft skills. It’s tapping into your unconscious bias and recognising that just because you have a D&I leader in your business, it doesn’t make you any more diverse or inclusive than a business who doesn’t.
To be inclusive and diverse means looking at your business and seeing where you can develop. If people are leaving the business – or worse – being let go, is there a common theme amongst those individuals who have moved on? What were their reasons when you carried out an exit interview and is it a reflection on you as an employer?
If you’re in a competitive environment, which most healthy workplaces have, you need to actually diversify the experience and perspective to align to your purpose as an organisation; and to do that, means you need to look beyond your current talent pool. There is a reason why a lot of boards and senior leadership teams look the same, and it hasn’t got anything to do with a particular group of individuals even having the right skills to do the job.
What it actually demonstrates is that on a social and commercial scale (even going as far as TV programs, films and advertising) we are used to seeing the same type of individual being represented. That feeds into our unconscious bias when hiring. If socially and commercially we haven’t seen anything different, then why would we think differently?
Homogeneity is built into the system. If leaders look, think and act in similar ways, they tend to define successful leaders as looking, thinking and acting just like them. It’s those expectations that then further translate into obstacles for people with different backgrounds and viewpoints.
This then forces groups that don’t fit into the status quo to ‘water down’ who they are, which further feeds into the problems associated with D&I. One cannot be successful without the other. If someone is unable to bring their “whole” self to work then you aren’t running an inclusive business. How can you then run an inclusive hiring process?
It’s the small actions that make a difference with Diversity & Inclusion. One cannot exist without the other. You can’t have a team of men with amenities in their bathroom such as deodorant, hand creams and sanitizers and then have a team of women without access to feminine hygiene products. You can’t hire someone who has a disability and then expect them to flourish in an environment that hinders them.
Your school of thought needs to be centred around giving every employee a feeling of belonging, and that means catering to their individual needs. The reason why people leave businesses is because they don’t feel heard and supported. Instead they feel ostracised and invisible, or worse, gaslighted for who they are as a person.
Acknowledgement is the first step towards transformation, and it needs to come from the top-level down. Leaders need to be involved in the conversation and held accountable for communicating the right message.
You’ll need to have some difficult conversations, not only with employees but also with yourself. However, if you can start to slowly (remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint) you’ll start to make an impact. The benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace provides a host of benefits. Organisations whose workforce represents a wider range of backgrounds produce more innovative ideas, make better decisions, and are more profitable over time. It’s a win-win!