Level the Playing Field
To support any effective diversity policy and inclusion strategy, you need to have a level playing field. This is accompanied by acknowledging the inherent privilege certain employees have due to their background, versus those from disadvantaged groups or minorities that are traditionally discriminated against.
At the forefront should be an effort to ensure that new employees from diverse backgrounds are accepted by the workforce. Not tolerated. In the next section I will step through the differences and give some examples as to how this can be achieved.
Tolerance vs Accepted
To be tolerated, to be honest, sucks. A quick Google search shows why.
allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.
The very definition evokes images of employees sitting rigidly, with gritted teeth, seething at having to tolerate working next to someone from a group that they dislike.
Let’s face it- who wants to be tolerated for who they are? To promote ‘tolerance’ is to promote discord and create resentment.
Steer clear of documents or policies that stress ‘tolerance’ instead of acceptance or respect. They are saying, in essence, that you ‘have to put up with it’ rather than ‘here’s how it is good’.
On the flip side, let’s look at acceptance.
consent to receive or undertake (something offered).
believe or come to recognize (a proposition) as valid or correct.
Compare the two, right now. Take a step back, and think about yourself in a situation where you have entered a new workplace, and how you would feel, how others might make you feel, and consider which of the above two would appeal more.
If you focus on acceptance, not tolerance, you spread a positive message of change, not a negative, loaded term that invites bias and resentment. The goal is to erode bias, not give it strength, and that is the key difference between the two.
“Guys, we have a new fella starting here today, he’s an aboriginal, so calm down on the coon jokes and stuff or I’ll belt ya. The law says we have to let them work here, so just shut up and accept it”
Imagine the sort of environment this approach will take. Brow beating employees with The Antidiscrimination Act will breed hostility towards the newstart, not acceptance and certainly not respect.
“Good morning everyone. I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to Michael. He has joined us from KPMG and will be working closely with our change team through the CIA for our infrastructure project. Please make him feel welcome and work to bring him up to speed with the plan”.
Don’t mention the ethnicity, the sexuality, whatever- it immediately creates a point of difference and does nothing to promote inclusivity. Additionally, definitely do not tell people not to be racist up front; as mentioned earlier, the assumption that everyone is inherently racist may at times be true, it achieves nothing to accuse outright.
To hammer the point home :
Diversity is not the same as Inclusion. Don’t assume that people want their differences erased in order to be part of the group.
Embrace your inner weirdness
“Want to Be a Great Leader? Start Acting Weirder”
Great title for a great article. Humans are not automatons or robots, they have hearts, minds, feelings, maybe souls, they have beliefs, emotions, kinks, quirks and all manner of weird and wonderful mannerisms that make them delightfully unique.
Expecting everyone to adhere to a HR mandated dominant paradigm is exhausting for both management and their peers.
My own manager recently pulled me into her office to sign a Code of Conduct form demonstrating I knew how to treat and interact with my employees and peers. During the process, I expressed a thought, almost offhand. “You know, if we came running to you every single time someone got offended, we would have you doing nothing but complaints 24/7”
She agreed, and then clarified- “it is about what can be brushed off, and what needs to be dealt with”.
This is mostly true. As I discussed earlier, you need to delineate between bias and detrimental bias. If someone gets into a raging argument over whether Coke is better than Pepsi, for example, you are well within your rights as a manager or peer to tell them to pull their heads in.
If, though, you have an employee attack another for being an unwed mother, which isn’t uncommon in conservative companies, you have a problem. This is a detrimental bias that has a significant and substantial effect on office morale and productivity.
Hence, the theory behind the above mentioned article. Let you staff be free. Let them be open and honest about who they are, and their performance will soar. Don’t tolerate them as long as they shut up about being who they are, instead see it as an opportunity to enhance workplace productivity by enhancing their self esteem and sense of belonging.
Example- As a transgender employee, I run into brick walls of intolerance and bias every day. 90% of them I let slide. Why? Because you need to pick your battles, and identify what is a deliberate, harmful bias instead of a perfectly natural response to the unknown. In the intervening time, I would say I have built successful working relationships with everyone I have worked with, without sacrificing my personal identity.
BUT. I did make some critically bad missteps earlier in the piece that I regret immensely. For example, after I transitioned, my then-manager pulled me into a room and questioned me fairly inappropriately on my sexual preferences. I refused to respond, as it was irrelevant (mistake #1- I had nothing to be ashamed of). He then said it was one thing to accept me transitioning, but it was too much for the ‘team’ to accept I was also attracted to men; it would make them uncomfortable.
As a result, I was barred from having photos of my loved ones (of either gender!) or partner in my cubicle, and forbidden from discussing my relationship; this resulted in months silently suffering through extended discussions between my peers about their husbands, wives and kids, while I could say nothing.
Worse, no one ever asked. Terrified as they were of being seen as bigoted, they reacted by pretending I was some strange asexual being who had no passions or desires for anyone, and existed in a vacuum.
It was with tremendous relief that I have been able to be far more open in my new team about my relationship, and join in discussions with my peers around a common workplace discussion- family.
Equity vs Equality
This is a good time to broach the contentious topic of Equality vs Equity. My workplace has a strong Equity policy that actively supports the recruitment and promotion of employees from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds (which they for now restrict to women, indigenous, non-english speaking background and people with disabilities- we are working through an updated version of this policy this year)
This can rankle members of traditionally advantaged groups who feel that they are being discriminated against, but equity policies that level the playing field are not discrimination.
“When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression”
This needs to be carved into the walls of every workplace in the country.
Giving disadvantaged employees a leg up is good business too. As previously discussed, the positive impacts on productivity, profitability and customer experience from a strong policy of diversity, AND inclusion, are multitudinous. There are solid economic reasons why most companies are including a strong equity policy as part of their corporate charter, and none of them are related, as many critics claim, to pressure to be “politically correct”.
Equity makes sense, profits wise.
This can breed resentment amongst traditionally advantaged groups. White, cisgender, heterosexual males, especially middle aged, are used to quickly advancing into positions of power and influence and not being questioned in their authority, a culture that is rapidly vanishing in the modern workplace. As a result, you see younger men lashing out at what they perceive to be injustices; they are entering a workforce that is recovering from centuries of unreconstructed male dominance, and feel threatened and marginalised.
This is where acceptance has to trump tolerance. Equity breeds resentment from members of traditionally advantaged groups, because they do not always perceive members of minorities to be ‘disadvantaged’, which results in nonsense like this. An solid, workable, inclusive equity policy caters to people from all backgrounds, and acknowledges socioeconomic disadvantages (which can affect white English speaking men and women as well as anyone, and are covered in a later chapter)
Encouraging your staff to embrace diversity, and to embrace each others’ differences, is vital in the modern workplace, and they might even learn something in the process. Don’t teach people to tolerate because they have to; lead them to accept because they want to. As stepped through earlier, getting someone to recognize and challenge their own personal biases and prejudices is a healing process as much as a productive one, and it can be achieved.
Acceptance stymied by Religious Beliefs
It is important to recognize that there can be acceptance between what would appear to be mutually exclusive groups despite fundamental differences of opinion. The bogus claim of ‘religious exemption’ from anti-discrimination laws, for example, needs to be exposed and debunked, as do attempts to hide blatant discrimination behind such beliefs.
The counter point that religious groups make is that ‘forcing’ them to accept others who practice activities contrary to their own belief system is oppression and a restriction of religious freedom. This is also fallacious. No religious belief system renders an individual immune from the repercussions of their actions, and nor should it. An individual is entirely entitled to believe that homosexuality is wrong, and they can hold that belief indefinitely. What they cannot do is use that bias to discriminate against others.
True free speech in practical forms is often governed by Joel Feinberg’s “Offense Principle”
“It is always a good reason in support of a proposed criminal prohibition that it would probably be an effective way of preventing serious offense…to persons other than the actor, and that it is probably a necessary means to that end…The principle asserts, in effect, that the prevention of offensive conduct is properly the state’s business”
Of course, we run into the problem then of what is considered ‘offensive’; for the purposes of this paper, I will restrict such discussion to what I previously termed detrimental bias. If an individual is not comfortable with outward displays of physical affection between members of the same sex, we can not realistically rob that individual of the right to that reaction, but we can explain, through tactics explained earlier (one on one discussions, step into my shoes, etc) how that behaviour is harmful.
Ultimately, however, the initial goal is to ensure their bias, unjustified or not, does not adversely impact the mental health and wellbeing of other individuals in the workplace. By allowing such impacts to occur, for sake of respecting ‘religious beliefs’ or similar excuses, the manager ultimately harms productivity and efficiency, and adversely impacts customer experience as a result.
Bottom line- the ideal result is to create an environment where everyone, though strategies outlined above, can share experiences and beliefs in an open, constructive manner, contributing to workplace harmony and efficiency. In the interim, the focus should be on giving disadvantaged employees the correct support to succeed in their career, and to ensure others do not impact them adversely with their own bias or prejudices.