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Inclusion and diversity have been topics of increasing importance across all industries for as long as I can remember. Companies working in tech, food service, education, trades, and more have been creating initiatives to hire people from a wide array of different backgrounds, to encourage new ideas, and welcome new voices into spaces they may not have held space before. But have these initiatives actually led to real change, to true inclusion and diversity in spaces often seemingly reserved for specific demographics?
Recently, I got the opportunity to provide input on an inclusion and diversity survey being developed for a global company, and then to participate in said survey. During the process, I couldn’t help but wonder; why ask for advice on a diversity survey from someone like myself? Yes, I represent a demographic looking for increased representation in many fields, as a woman. However, I know of many people within the company in question that could more effectively answer how diversity and inclusion are truly in action than myself. Isn’t having input from voices that are directly affected by the success or failure of inclusive initiatives kind of the key point this company is going for?
When going through this process, I was quickly faced with what is too often the reality of these I&D (inclusion and diversity) initiatives. Companies emphasize their devotion to inclusion, but hire the same people time and time again. Organizations bring up hiring goals to increase diversity within their workforce, yet the goals are never achieved. What is stopping this progress?
While we see lots of optimism around I&D, about bringing fresh opinions, greater creativity, and team cohesion, what more often occurs is a little more pessimistic; without proper work being done in the work environment around I&D initiatives, we create social divides. An excellent reason for diversifying your workforce is to increase understanding of the market you’re working in. But with these social divides encouraged by a concept called similarity-attraction, introducing new ideas and new demographics can be challenging for those already working within the field. These divides can be caused by barriers such as communication, understanding, and social integration.
Working with people in the trades, I am up close and personal with this industry, while representing an under-represented demographic; women are still making up less than 10% of the trades workforce, with most in typically female-dominated fields such as estheticians. Male-dominated fields are still seeing extremely low numbers of female-identifying recruits and apprentices, despite these trades typically earning more money. If companies are making claims to prioritize I&D, why haven’t these percentages been moving much in the past five years?
We need to look at the environment within the industry. Companies that are prioritizing I&D will be actively creating an environment to support it, with consideration to gender, religion, race, and more within their I&D goals. With technicians and skilled workers in high demand, employees have their pick of where to work, and will be heading toward employers that place value on their individuality. Developing a workplace that fosters authenticity, comfort and flexibility, and the opportunity to contribute ideas to build something greater, encourages workers to live these values to the fullest and bring everything they have to their company.
Keep in mind also that equal opportunity is not what any demographic needs when trying to succeed in any field.
Let’s use an example here.
Three people are trying to ride bikes, so three of the same bikes are provided. However, one person is very tall, so they struggle to pedal effectively. One person is sized perfectly for the bike, so they are able to pedal with ease. One person is a wheelchair user, and they are unable to get on the bike.
While this is technically an equal opportunity, only one person is able to succeed completely and thus do the task in its entirety. However, if each person was given a bike for their unique needs, they would all be able to pedal easily. This creates equity. We can use this in our leadership strategies and when planning for successfully achieving goals. Even something as simple as PPE can create an equity versus equality situation. Employers may be providing PPE, but does the purchased PPE have a size range to accommodate all who will be using it? PPE designed for a man doesn’t fit a woman, and vice versa. This moment of equality creates a real safety concern. We can replace this with a moment of equity, in which the employer provides PPE to fit all workers in their company, addressing both the issue of safety as well as inclusion.
Leaders, ask yourselves these questions:
Do workers feel safe? Are you creating an environment that welcomes people to speak up when they are uncomfortable with something happening around or directly to them?
Do workers use locker talk, slang, or generally language that others might find offensive or derogatory? Do people from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable in conversations within your team?
Are you providing equitable opportunities within your team? Are your workers given the ability to perform at their best, considering their differences from those around them?
We can definitely see changes being made across industry to begin the big steps to I&D within their workforces. However, there’s still a long way to go, and it is a journey of many small steps. Considering safety requirements for different workers, changes to language on the job site, and more can be the building blocks to a great, inclusive future. With people in leadership devoting resources, time, and budget to I&D initiatives in a very real way, more and more, we can see a bright future with everyone included.
If you’re looking to read more on the subject, I recommend taking a look at this article!