Diversity – don’t believe everything you hear

Written by Peter Cosgrove

June 1, 2021

It’s great to see diversity and inclusion top of many company agendas however it is also important to recognise that as a topic it is nuanced and complex. Here are three apocryphal phrases that you may frequently hear on the topic:

Diverse companies are more profitable than non-diverse companies. They might be or they might not be, it depends if you focus on inclusion and not just diversity. Hiring for difference is not very effective if you do not start to look at how this might work within the existing company culture. Think for a second of your top five friends in the world, pause while you get them in your head. Now, if I asked you to think of your age, gender, marital status, ethnicity and even whether you went to college – I think you might find that your friends are very very like you. Scarily so, its called homophily – or in simpler terms “birds of a feather flock together”. If you have had your whole life to work out who the top five people are in the world who make you most at ease, how are you then going to look at people you hang out with in the workplace. Remember, we find comfort in the familiar and that is often sameness.

The world is so woke, so politically correct, you cannot say anything in work these days. This is something you generally hear a lot from those in positions of power or in the majority. However, what you should really be hearing is: my life used to be much easier, I never had to consider my privilege and now I am reminded of it, and it makes me uncomfortable and I might need to change. The challenge with these comments is that if they are said by those in power, they may get traction and convince those who work for them.

I hate the phrase white privilege, I worked damn hard to get here and nothing was handed to me. When those with privilege get reminded of this fact, it is natural to get defensive, and ascribe it all to hard work and then list all the hardships that they might have endured. It also feels uncomfortable particularly in western societies which focus so much on merit. The idea that they may have got somewhere, not because of merit but the colour of their skin or their gender can feel awkward. Remember that being privileged does not mean that they have lived a perfect and hardship-free life it just means that despite their hard work, it might still have been easier for them because of their gender, race etc.

Having conversations about diversity and inclusion should make us a little uncomfortable, defensive and challenged so if your company has this as an area of focus ensure that this is happening. There are no absolutes, it is nuanced and needs to be talked about. A culture with inclusivity and respect at its core will do very well welcoming in diverse talent, just don’t let diverse talent be the starting point.

Peter Cosgrove is Managing Director of Futurewise and a member of the Steering Committee of the 30% club in Ireland.

 

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