Time to diversify diversity
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences” - Audre Lorde
It has been a little over a decade since concrete steps were initiated by global organizations in an effort to acknowledge, embrace and encourage diversity. While the efforts began largely on gender, colour and LGBT+ inclusion, varying on the geography and state of affairs and acceptance in that part of the global territory, several other areas of diversity got overlooked under the shadow of what the world prioritized.
When we talk of equity and equality at workplace, we talk about extending the needed support across the workforce to ensure everyone has what they need to level the playing field, however, what we missed out on in this process, is that there are some areas of diversity which are yet to receive the required equity and be given the required attention to build an inclusive and diverse workplace, in every aspect of the word.
To bring you up to speed, here are some areas of diversity that we have identified that exist but are yet to be given a platform that would indicate their importance in an equitable workplace.
Cognitive diversity is about different problem-solving styles. Some people are more idealistic and creative, always coming up with new ideas for dealing with a project; other people are more realistic and sceptical, always poking holes in those ideas. Others keep asking questions, trying to balance different perspectives; and then there are the people who just put their heads down and try to finish things as soon as possible. Unfortunately, cognitive diversity is often brushed aside because people often feel more comfortable working with others who think the same way as they do.
This is a form of groupthink, one that is not visible and hence easily overlooked, sidelining those who do not share the common problem-solving style of the group.
If we were to draw parallels, aren’t their different leadership styles too? And while leadership as a skill can be developed, there exists an innate leadership style that comes out when an employee is given the opportunity to lead. Similarly, when we talk of the workforce at large, there is a need for cognitive diversity, and not because that’s how humans are created and they cannot help their behavior or replicate the behavior of the more ideal employee, but because they are different, and bring with themselves different perspectives, different schools of thought, different experiences and therefore a diversity of approach, to build the future of work
In today’s times, it isn’t just the composition of the workforce that is diverse. The workforce is progressing faster than the ability of organizations to perceive and accept their changing needs, lifestyle and commitments. With the diverse needs of the new-age workforce that exist today, extending equitable parental leaves and insurance policies to cover LGBT+ employees and their partners, while crucial as they are, it isn’t enough. Every employee comes with his/her/their own set of skills, abilities, responsibilities and purpose. While for one career progression is a priority, for another their career might just be a way to obtain financial stability, with no difference in commitment to deliver work. Both such sets might have personal responsibilities to take care of, in other words they might be playing the role of a caregiver towards a family member, relative, or a friend.
Incorporating such employee responsibilities in organizational policies and providing them with a flexible working schedule, among other benefits is absolutely critical to ensure they are able to fulfil both personal and professional responsibilities, without letting either one cause a strain on the other or the employee himself/herself.
Caregivers is a relatively new segment of diversity and organizations are trying to cater to the needs of these employees through cooperative policies that are accommodating of personal commitments. There is however, a long road ahead.
"Hey! You are a millennial, how are you not on Facebook?"
"Oh! You are over 60 now, time to retire!"
Sounds like casual conversations? But we don't realize how these statements are evidence of agism at the workplace. Based on stereotypes and triggered by unconscious bias most often we judge a particular employee or candidate based on their age.
At just 17 years of age, Ritesh Agarwal had invented Travel travels, modeled after Airbnb, which later branched out to become OYO Rooms. Then there is Isabella Dymalovski who launched Luv Ur Skin in the US, selling a wide range of products and at the age of 16 is one of the youngest CEOs in the world. On the other hand, we have stories like that of Ray Kroc, who started McDonalds when most people his age were retiring. Or Harlan David Sanders who was 65 years old when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
These examples have always been there but still we have ignored them and unconsciously judged the employees for their age and have probably ignored their potential.
Now more than ever, there is a need to revisit HR policies, from hiring to learning and development and make them flexible enough to cater to the varied needs of employees of all ages. Ultimately what should matter is the complete value proposition that a candidate brings to the job role in question - experience, skills, aptitude and perhaps the most important, how the candidate fits in with the company culture. Beyond changing the talent strategies, organizations would have to disrupt the culture also a bit and create an inclusive workplace for employees of all ages. Interventions to educate people to not discriminate might be needed. Further, multiple generations should be educated about the benefits of working with each other.
The bottom line is: stop the practice of discrimination based on age and foster a culture where employees from diverse age groups and generations can work, learn, innovate and grow together.
If we were to go by the current trends of the growth of religions, the future is more likely to see a rise of people practicing faith. Studies by the Pew Research Center said that there would be a 35% growth in population between 2010 to 2050, and major religions including Hindus, Muslims and Christians are likely to keep growing. Conversely, a study in the United States showed that religious discrimination claims in the country doubled since 2001. The question that most talent leaders need to ask is ‘how do they ensure their workplace is free from discrimination based on religious grounds?’
As the future of work becomes increasingly mobile with a mix of different cultures and backgrounds, companies need to work towards creating a space which is religiously diverse and protects people of faith and even those who don't practice faith.
That could mean proactively making people feel welcome, whether it is granting leaves for festivals that may not be widely popular in the country or creating a workplace that allows faith groups to pray, there is a need to assess areas within the workplace where religious freedom may be curtailed and rectify it.
According to a research, 97 percent of individuals from working-class backgrounds reported that their social class background affected their work experience.
We can no longer afford to refuse to acknowledge the role that class plays in the workplace.
People from a socially and economically disadvantaged background have unique skills that people who grew up economically privileged may lack. According to reports, class migrants report lower levels of belonging in the workplace, feel disadvantaged by lack of knowledge about the “rules of the game” in a corporate office, and are less often seen as a “good fit” due to arbitrary measures like not knowing what windsurfing is or whether brown shoes are taboo in the city. Failure to embrace candidates from a socially and economically disadvantaged background means missing out on a sizeable pool of talent, missing out on high quality candidates, and missing out on candidates with skills and attributes that are increasingly valuable in the workplace.
Class-based bias, just like gender bias, just that it is still not acknowledged and is considered a taboo to be discussed at workplace. Class-based bias can percolate into workplace systems and hinder the career success of this group.
Our workplaces mirror the sociocultural dynamics at play in our lives outside work. Diversity in the workplace is an asset for both businesses and their employees, in its capacity to foster innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do. Yet it takes careful nurturing and conscious orchestration to unleash the true potential of this invaluable asset.
However, diversity isn’t just about gender, or even race; it requires diversity of thought, and creating room for opposing and varied views. The traditional way of viewing diversity and inclusion based on legally protected classes often falls short - especially when we don’t embrace important differences we don’t readily see.