Diversity is a hot topic right now and most companies have implemented some form of basic diversity training, at least for line manager level. But despite the wealth of educational materials, news stories and social media hype, there are some major pitfalls that we are all guilty of……
Whether it’s sizing people up by their appearance, accents or even hair colour, we are all guilty of making snap judgements the moment we meet people. It’s that old adage that first impressions count. They clearly do but we must make sure it is for the right reasons. ‘First impressions’ can be littered with prejudices and labelling that forgets the individual and reinforces our own prejudices. Really if we stop and think about it, labelling and generalizing individuals in this way is ridiculous. Yet we do it almost without realizing, which leads us on to…..
2. Unconscious bias
It’s a tricky one this one, as the name suggests, you are effectively doing the wrong thing without really doing anything. The first step to combat this is to open up your eyes (and mind) to the possibility that you may be using stereotypes or generalizations which create bias either for or against a certain societal group. One of the best ways to do this is to flip it on its head: For example, in a recruitment situation, instead of asking ‘what am I looking for?’ ask yourself ‘what am I not looking for?’ Are all your criteria fair and justified? You may surprise yourself.
3. Making it personal
Diversity is a fairly broad subject and it has many very human elements. This means that we can often connect with the topic on a personal level. This has many positive benefits, not least that it’s easy to motivate and engage your staff with a diversity focus. However, the interest can often be self-interest, with people only really engaging with policies that impact them directly, so parents taking an interest in more family friendly policies, for example. The obvious problem is that if your workforce is not very diverse, your focus of interest will not be very diverse and your diversity strategy can, ironically, become quite narrow. By focusing on the interests of staff already employed, you may be closing doors to other groups by not addressing issues that may hinder them entering the workforce.
4. Fear of being disliked
“Here come the fun police!” Not what you want to hear when you are trying to build engaging and enduring relationships with your team. But there is a fine line to be walked here. What is considered office banter by some may be interpreted as genuine discrimination or intimidation by others. It’s a subjective issue but one that needs to be managed if you are to be respected by your team, as well as liked. The impetus here is to do something rather than nothing. Ignoring offensive comments is to normalize them and implies your acceptance of sentiment behind them. If you hear something even slightly borderline or notice that someone seems upset by ‘office banter’, then it’s not banter anymore and it’s your duty to do something about it.
5. The PC debate
“Its political correctness gone mad!” A statement that sparks frustration, annoyance and, often, confusion. It’s okay to make a joke about “The French” but a throw away comment about religion could lead to accusations of inciting racial hatred. The best advice? Err on the side of caution. If you would not want to see it written down as a formal statement with your name on it then don’t say it and certainly don’t email it. These things come back to haunt you.
Whether you recognize any of these examples from your own behaviour of that of others, its food for thought. The key to avoiding such pitfalls is to open up your mind and apply ‘diversity thinking’ to your workplace behaviours. Use your judgement, your common sense and your empathy to see things from another perspective. In the words of a very wise one, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi.