Sooooo, there’s much talk about diversity going on around the globe. It seems like everywhere you turn corporations, big and small, are waving the word “diversity” like a newly discovered initiative and buzz word.
For as long as there have been people on this planet, there’s been diversity. People who originate from different areas, people who speak different languages and dialects, people who have different family & living arrangements, people with different capabilities (physical, mental and cognitive), people with different likes and dislikes, people with different thought processes, people of different sizes and colour.
Back to present day. Many senior leaders are experts in their particular field, they’re used to leading others and setting direction in businesses, managing and juggling finances in multi-million pound piggy banks and complex projects. Now, in their quest to show the world they’re trying to get a handle on diversity and inclusion, they hold meetings with their peers to develop strategies and action plans. These peers, more often than not, are just like them. They went through the same type of education, they look like them, speak like them, think like them. How effective will the decision-making outputs generated in these forums be?
Fly on the wall example – Meeting Chair: “So, on today’s agenda, we’ll be discussing [Chair shares a diversity and inclusion topic that has been discussed at previous meetings but this time it’s called something different so it can be rehashed and regurgitated on another agenda], the proposals are [Chair shares the same options put forward at previous meetings to address said topic], what are everyone’s thoughts?” After brief discussion, the group around the table agree with the proposals put forward. Diversity of thought? Little or none. Group think? Plenty. The strategy and action plan are launched within their organisations and to the world with much patting on the back and satisfied handshakes amongst all those involved – “Look at how committed we are to being more representative of the people and society who buy our products and use our services.”
I and others with real lived experiences of diversity and inclusion need to be involved in the discussion from the off. We need to take the leadership baton in this area from senior leaders to help them out. Let’s face it, if we don’t we’ll still be talking about diversity and inclusion in 10 years with little progress. Both groups are comfortable sticking with who and what they know. Like-minded people getting together to talk about stuff that needs fixing, wondering why no one else is listening to what’s going wrong, thinking about ways to raise awareness and spread the word. Problem is, as the conversation is with those who are already on the same page, the words bounce around The Echo Chamber with limited opportunities to reach those outside that circle – the ones we actually need to reach.
The hardest part is the first time you speak out, wondering how what you’ve said will be received, how will it affect your reputation/credibility/career? Well, I’ve tried it and I can give you a brief insight of what happened to me the first time I challenged a group of senior leaders on their approach to diversity and inclusion.
*Eerie tumbleweed silence* *The whoosh of a wind tunnel* *The feeling I’d spoken in a different language* *A fleeting look of panicked uncertainty as the status quo is threatened*
Don’t worry, stick at it. If you do it often enough, you’ll get used to being the cat among the pigeons and the senior leaders will get used to having their feathers ruffled. They may not like it, they may feel their corporate world as they know it is shifting but they’ll recognise you have valuable knowledge & experience to bring to the table. Remember leadership begins with us all. Stripping back all the smoke and mirrors, will the pages and pages of strategy and action plans be exposed as empty words or have real steps been put in place to monitor, nurture and bring them to life?
By the way, I love The Echo Chamber phrase. I heard it at a recent breakfast diversity event I attended and it perfectly explains what I witness happening regularly in various organisations. (There actually was quite a bit of diversity in the breakfast offerings; sausage and bacon rolls, danish pastries, fruit – yum!) I’ll be back in cat mode ruffling more feathers as usual at my workplace this week. Thankfully the tumbleweed moments are definitely becoming less frequent. This is a very emotive area and most people want to do the right thing but we all need to help each other to do it. What have you noticed happening with your peers and in your workplaces regarding diversity and inclusion discussions?