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4 min read

The current way of trying to improve diversity

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The way organizations have been trying to improve diversity and inclusion is another key reason we are still miles away from inclusion. You can break the approaches that aren't successfully integrating inclusion into the way we work into four categories:

  1. The label focus
  2. Paralysis
  3. Celebrations and cupcakes
  4. The scattergun approach
The Label Focus

Firstly, let's take a look at the label focus. Experts, scholars, and the rest of us usually focus on the labels we experience as most relevant (to us). Label focus often results in a blinkered perspective focussing on one or two of the big-name labels like gender or ethnicity. Of course, however, the range of relevant inequities is considerably broader. 

Organizations also often have their favorite underrepresented groups that they focus on in their diversity and inclusion initiatives. These may have been selected because there was an issue identified, for example, a sudden turnover of women in senior leadership roles. Alternatively, it may have been because new legislation was introduced which forced action, for example, a disability accessibility bill. Or a highly passionate, enthusiastic, and vocal collection of employees that get traction and support from their peers in the organization, such as an LGBTQI+ Pride group. When we focus on one or two labels, what about everyone else? Or what about the people that don't identify with that label at all?

The problem with this labeling approach to creating inclusion is that it is exclusive instead of inclusive because it leaves everyone else out. It's also an unmanageable workload if you decide to make inclusion for everyone in your organization. You would end up with so many streams of inclusion work for all the various labels, not to mention the combinations (or intersectionality) of those labels. The label focus is a reason we are miles from inclusion.


Secondly, there is the paralysis approach. There's not much to write here since paralysis means there has been no action in the organization. Paralysis could be fear from the potential to get it wrong, being overwhelmed by the perceived enormity of the task, or the hands of those wanting to make a change are tied by their leaders or Board. It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, paralysis and inaction are another reason we are still miles from inclusion.

Celebrations and Cupcakes

Next is the celebrations and cupcakes approach. In chronological order, there is World Braille Day (January 4), International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11), World Day of Social Justice (February 20), International Mother Language Day (February 21), Zero Discrimination Day (March 1), International Women's Day (March 8), International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21), World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), and International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (March 25).

And this only takes us up to March with the international days observed by the United Nations. There are so many dates to choose from – and how do you decide? What do you leave out? But that's not really my issue with celebrating the labels; celebrating the labels on a day in the year with posters, lapel ribbons, and cupcakes is only an awareness-building activity – it does not, and will not, create inclusion. 

Think of it this way. How would you approach it if you wanted to implement new agile ways of working in your organization? Would you successfully transform how your organization manages projects and responds to customer needs and market trends by sticking up some posters, giving everyone a ribbon to wear, a cupcake to eat, taking some photos, and creating a video for your organization's intranet? Definitely not! Instead, you would strategically look at job design, work practices and work processes, policies and procedures, governance and reporting mechanisms, capability and behaviors of all layers of the organization (both directly and indirectly, working on Agile projects), as well as engagement and communications. Put bluntly, if it wouldn't work for any other kind of business transformation, why would celebrations and cupcakes work for driving inclusion in your organization? Celebrations and cupcakes won't get you beyond awareness, and that's another reason we are still miles away from inclusion.


Lastly, there is the scattergun approach. This approach is applied with good intent. Actually, all approaches usually are. However, the scattergun approach is usually driven by a team that is acutely aware there is so much important work, but (whether they realize it or not) they haven't quite worked out how to unpack what the levers are for change. So they are trying anything and everything! The good thing is that these organizations are probably starting to make some inroads with inclusion. But they are at risk of overloading their employees with diversity and inclusion messaging and initiatives, creating fatigue, and are not successful in sustaining the changes because new ways of thinking and working do not get embedded into business-as-usual before moving onto the next initiative. Transforming an organization requires a coordinated, strategic and measurable approach. While the scattergun approach does get an organization a little closer to inclusion, it's not going to get you the whole way, so it is still yet another reason we are miles away from inclusion.

Here are a few questions for you to reflect on how you may be currently working towards creating an inclusive organization and how that may be impeding your progress and success.
  • Do you focus on one or more labels? Whom are you leaving out? Why?
  • What's the potential impact of this for them? And your organization?
  • Are there any signs of paralysis in taking inclusion improvement action? Perhaps overall or just in certain areas of diversity and inclusion? What is causing this?
  • How many of your diversity and inclusion initiatives would be categorized as awareness activities (celebrations and cupcakes)?
  • Could you approach things differently so that you integrate new ways of inclusive working as part of business-as-usual? Why?
  • Are you at risk of causing diversity and inclusion fatigue?
  • What are the potential impacts of this on your long-term success? 
In Summary

If you only remember 3 things from this 2-part blog post (find part one here), REMEMBER THESE:

  • Data from around the world proves we are still miles away from inclusion. Feel free to go back and read the list of examples provided in this chapter.
  • We can't wait 208 years. We can't wait 208 years for gender equality, but we shouldn't have to wait that long for equality for everyone else either. Focussing on one label at a time will take too long.
  • Stop celebrating diversity and inclusion with cupcakes because it will not get you beyond awareness of the difference. There's a better way to transform your organization so that inclusion is business-as-usual.


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