Diversity Does Not Intrinsically Mean Inclusion

As the topic of diversity is grows more and more within professional environments, the population has expressed the need, and the benefits for companies to embrace and encourage diversity. However, having diversity as a true company value requires massive investments of both time and money, but has proven that the results in the long-term are worth it (companies with more diversity in all areas have consistently shown better performance).

Firstly, we must consider the definition that is currently being used as the standard for diversity within companies which is establishing equal amounts of men and women within the company. This ignores all the other characteristics that make other people diverse, for instance, nationality, race, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures etc. Therefore there must be a change in the way diversity is perceived within companies. Secondly, another problem is mistaking diversity as “something to be checked off” rather than truly going after the best candidates for the job positions, disregarding characteristics that individuals are unable to change about themselves.

Photographer: Shopify Partners  

 

The only way to truly promote diversity and maintain diversity in the workplace is through inclusion. It is simply not enough to hire people of different backgrounds and identities, they must feel integral in the working environment, otherwise, they will not last any longer than three months. So, what does inclusion really mean? How do we make sure everyone feels included? Consider this scenario, a company is extremely proud of the amount of diversity and inclusion that can be found within their organization and yet also determines English as their official language. However, this company also has offices in countries all around the world, and what if an employee is transferred to a location where the country’s official language is not English? Does that mean everyone should be speaking English at all times, in both professional and social situations at work? Why should “locals” change their ways to accommodate for others? Now, what if you were the odd one out? Would you feel comfortable if your coworkers would speak to you in English, but when in any other conversations, they speak the incomprehensible native language in your presence?

This scenario is a reality that many individuals face all the time, in places all around the world. People are required to relocate to foreign countries and are expected to adapt to a new and unfamiliar environment within minutes. Especially, when they arrive at work and are expected to know the culture and the language, but instead they feel excluded because of their cultural ignorance. Some locals might even challenge the foreigner and say “you moved here, you must learn the local language”. People seem reluctant to put in a small amount of extra effort when they are those with the advantage, most likely because they are in their home country or are able to speak the local language fluently. However, when placed in the foreigner's position, they expect that others accommodate their language barriers, as their company has expressed such passion for diversity and inclusion.

Photographer: Brittani Burns via Unsplash

 

Now, I don’t believe this problem will be solved from one minute to another, but we can always improve the current situation. For the foreigner's situation, the simple act of placing yourself in that person’s shoes will allow for empathy and most likely speaking the language that all parties understand. However, for other diversity components, for example, gender and racial identities, also need to be accounted for. Small things like having only gender-neutral bathrooms and using gender-neutral language throughout the company language by using “they” instead of “men and women”. Other things that require greater efforts, but have larger impacts include having all kinds of diversity represented in all areas and positions of the organization. Furthermore,  recognizing all religious and cultural holidays and granting leave to employees that follow those practices is also necessary. One thing that is very important, but t is rarely recognized as necessary is the freedom to ask, on both sides of the relationship. Employees and employers should have the right to ask for accommodations as well as clarifications (as long as they are not offensive or triggering, which can be extremely difficult).