Just as there are many different social stereotypes in the world, there are many dimensions of diversity and difference. And of course, they are all prevalent in the workplace.
There is a growing trend, backed by research and insights, within the diversity and inclusion space to move away from focusing on types of difference in situ or the ‘traditional’ dimensions of diversity.
Because it doesn’t really matter what specific dimension of diversity you identify with, you still have a right to feel respected, valued for your uniqueness, and have a sense of belonging within your workplace.
If you feel unique then you are different. The diversity and inclusion traditionalist will argue that if we don’t focus on the dimensions of diversity, the issues of inclusion of people in these groups will be watered down.
I don’t propose we throw out the great solid foundation we have built and that these dimensions of diversity lack importance. What I suggest is that we have focused on them to such an extent that we have not created a solid foundation and starting point of inclusion, which MUST relate to all team members.
Having an understanding of why is inclusion important is a good place to start.
So, the foundation needs to be building the skillset for leaders around dealing with and managing difference, any difference. Once this skillset is entrenched as a habit, we can reintroduce the traditional dimensions of diversity, because where they exist, there is a higher degree of difficulty in dealing with difference, because I don’t understand you!
In this article, I’m going to focus on how inclusive leaders consider the habits of managing difference, regardless of the category or dimension of diversity. So, let’s begin.
Traditional dimensions of diversity
Firstly, I want to underscore this: traditional diversity dimensions are very important.
I’m not saying that by moving away from focusing on each of the dimensions they are somehow less significant.
This could not be further from the truth.
However, when there are so many defined dimensions of diversity, focussing on one or many types of difference takes up a fair chunk of our brain space within our working day. It also eats up most of our diversity and inclusion resources.
What we should be doing instead, is looking at difference through an inclusive lens.
So, we start by ensuring that we create a sense of belonging for everyone. We work on the assumption that by knowing how to be inclusive of all, we embrace the diversity of all. We don’t focus on which dimension of diversity!
Once we start from a place of inclusiveness we can also circle back to those traditional dimensions of diversity as prime examples that trigger the fear that may arise when we don’t know what to do because difference exists.
Filling dimensions of diversity quotas does not work
Traditionally, difference exists between groups of people based on demographic and other dynamics, such as their gender, religious beliefs, race, marital status, ethnicity, parental status, age, education, physical and mental ability, income, sexual orientation, occupation, language, geographical location and many other components.
If, as CEOs, managers, HR or diversity and inclusion leaders, all we do is become fixated on these dimensions and start capturing data on the numbers of each within our organisation in order to fill quotas – are we truly understanding their difference, or are we simply applying tokenistic responses to external expectations?
I propose the latter. I call it the ‘Noah’s Ark’ approach to diversity and inclusion and the truth is that it might look good temporarily, but it does not create a sustainable outcome.
So, what then should we start to do?
Two things need to change:
- Our mindset – what happens if I change my thoughts around how we approach managing difference and being inclusive?
- And our perspective – where am I coming from when I approach diversity?
So, now it becomes imperative that we look at prioritising diversity and inclusion strategy and implementation by empowering our leaders to be more inclusive.
Inclusive leaders intentionally change their mindset
Many psychologists will tell you that if you suffer from anxiety, one way to help alleviate symptoms is to change your thoughts. If you think differently about the situation that is worrying you, then your behaviour will also change.
Instead of fixating on the ‘what ifs’ that my occur, you can train your brain to no longer fear the unknown because you have changed the way you think about it.
Inclusive leaders think differently about the person in their team who is perhaps a bit quirky, quiet, non-committal, overbearing, loud, obnoxious, or opinionated, and therefore their interactions and attitudes towards them change.
Inclusive leaders find out why they are the way they are so that their difference is no longer a burden. Perhaps their different way of being or doing will become a strength and help the team to smash goals!
Inclusive leaders approach diversity & inclusion strategy differently
Inclusive leadership is about leaders who are passionate and proactive about making a difference demonstrate their commitment by acting and learning every day. They aren’t fearful of failing, but instead embrace the philosophy of lifelong learning.
They experience the impact on their teams when everyone feels a sense of belonging and that their difference is valued.
Inclusive leaders trust their teams, share knowledge and resources, communicate openly and vulnerably, and brings out the best in those around them.
Empowering leaders to be more inclusive
Don’t be daunted by the thought of the massive job it will take to help each and every one of your leaders become more inclusive.
Access our free resource that has been designed to help you take the first step. It outlines 20 examples of how your leaders can be inclusive every day. These provocations and ideas are game changers!
Ready for more?
We are passionate about helping leaders to build and embed habits of inclusion.
If you are ready for more, then find out if our specific Inclusion Habits for Leaders Program is the right inclusion solution for your organisation.
Tell us a bit about your current D&I strategy and what you’re looking to achieve by improving your current approach.
Take our 2-minute questionnaire here.