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The Challenges in Managing Diversity & Inclusion

The concepts of diversity, inclusion and equality are becoming more and more widespread in everyday language both within and outside of the business world. In terms of its definition, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) may be a rather fluid concept, but at its very core it is about empowering, respecting and appreciating individual differences. However, it is important to note that diversity and inclusion are not interchangeable as concepts. Diversity refers to the ways in which individuals differ from each other – these can be both visible and non-visible factors, ranging from gender and race to personality and cognitive diversity. Inclusion refers to the involvement and empowerment of all these different individuals – that is, everyone.

Unconscious biases and the complexity of D&I

A common topic in the D&I discussion is the emergence of unconscious biases and how to manage them. Unconscious biases are automatic, quick judgments and assessments we make of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. It is our innate drive to understand and make sense of ourselves, others, and the world around us, and this can sometimes lead us into thinking we know more than we actually do. Due to these unconscious biases – which are an inevitable part of human nature and embedded into our decision making – D&I can be a challenging topic to manage as it requires getting out of one’s comfort zone and being open to questioning the status quo. However, I believe there has been growing level of interest in understanding the bigger picture and the broader advantages of valuing the magnitude and complexity of differences in individuals – the differences in personalities, perspectives, life experiences and thinking styles that, if managed efficiently, can all add to the creative ideas, productivity and overall success of an organisation.

Diversity issues represent some of the most complex dynamics in the modern organisation, but the awareness of these can significantly improve workplace performance and relationships. Nevertheless, the efforts to promote diversity have often been ineffective. Research has found that dealing with diversity ineffectively can subsequently lead to poor communication and teamwork and further to segregation and intolerance within groups, in other words, to exclusion. This is why it is important to challenge ourselves to find not only efficient but, most importantly, authentic ways to deal with diversity. Although it can be relatively easy for organisations to increase its diversity in numbers, it should be noted that there is no evidence of causation when it comes to inclusion – diversity will not automatically increase the organisation’s social inclusion. Additionally, merely hiring diverse talent does not guarantee its retention.

Inclusion and psychological safety

In recent times, there has been more emphasis on focusing on the importance of inclusion, as opposed to diversity. Ideally, in order to the organisation (or a group of any kind) to utilise its diversity to its maximum potential, the individuals will all feel included and thus motivated to bring their full potential to work and further bring their unique contributions to the organisation’s objectives. Therefore, the transformation, or the bridge, between diversity and inclusion involves accepting and valuing different views and behaviours, adapting to other ways of communicating, and further building on the benefits of diverse and inclusive environment. Again, this can also bring its challenges and it is important for leaders to manage any conflict of personalities or creative tensions that can result from the inherent differences within the team. The leaders need to ensure they influence others to value individual differences, big or small, and, most importantly, to make sure they accommodate each individual in a way that all the diverse perspectives, cultures and personalities are being heard. For the diverse teams to flourish, they need to be in a climate of psychological safety, a term coined by Amy Edmondson, defined as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”. In other words, it is about each individual having the confidence to take risks and express new ideas without fear of embarrassment. This is another important aspect of D&I that leaders need to be aware of and lead by example by bringing transparency and authenticity into their organisation.  

Journey of continuous change

Notably, research shows that when diversity efforts focus more on visual identities such as race, gender, age or disability, without addressing the more implicit differences such as personalities, values, perspectives, or attitudes , it may actually hold back development of inclusive environments by overemphasising differences rather than similarities. It is important to understand that there is no quick fix to inclusiveness and it should not be a specific or tangible goal to try to achieve, but instead a continuous journey that fluctuates with the changes as we learn and evolve. It is the individual themselves who is ultimately not only responsible but also capable of learning and expanding their capacity to deepen their awareness of their own differences – and similarities – and those of others and see the ultimate benefits of a diverse and inclusive environment. Furthermore, by increasing their awareness, the individual should have the ability to respond and adapt to their environment mindfully, rather than out of habit.

You and your career

Learning and development is undoubtedly necessary to stay at the top of your game professionally. Therefore we all try and take the time to keep updated on current trends in our relevant industries. However, what other steps can be taken to ensure that you keep moving your career in the direction you want? Technical knowledge will take you so far, but in order to truly grow and continue your career trajectory in the direction you want, it is necessary to take a look inwards, at oneself and see what interpersonal skills need to be developed and honed. Technical ability might help you achieve the promotion to manager, but in order to become a leader, personal development is required. This is where career coaching and psychometrics can help.

Career coaching is not simply somewhere to go to voice your dissatisfaction with your current role or circumstances. It is a highly tailored approach to evaluating ones goals and objectives and mapping out a plan to allow those to be reached. Steps are identified and agreed with the coach and he/she will hold the coachee accountable for reaching those steps and ultimately achieving their goal.

Dealing with people effectively is much more achievable if the person has a good degree of self-awareness and self-knowledge. People often take it for granted that they know themselves, but how often does one sit down and really think about one’s personality and what makes them tick, or conversely, what stops one from being as effective or as efficient as they should be? Psychometrics, or more specifically, personality assessments can help one gain a clear picture of themselves, identifying what their strengths are and how to draw on them, as well as figuring out what their potential development areas are and how to tackle those effectively. This can also be achieved with the help of a career coach or organisational psychologist, to explain the results of the assessments and helping the person to think objectively about their own personality and how to get the most out of the process.

Finally, 360 reports are a tool which is tailored towards eliciting structured feedback from one’s peers, direct reports and those they report to. It is anonymous and therefore should be candid and honest in a way in which people might shy away from in a face to face situation in which they do not have to worry about the potential for offending the recipient.

If none of these tools are currently a realistic option, take the time to honestly assess yourself. What are your strengths, what have you done well this year and why did it go well? Identify your strengths. But just as importantly, try to identify potential areas for development. What has gone badly this year and why? What could you have done differently?

Also consider asking trusted friends, family and colleagues for feedback. Explain that you want to learn and work on any potential development areas. Reassure them that you want them to be honest and take their feedback in a gracious manner. Do not try to defend yourself or make excuses. Simply thanks the person for their feedback and then take the time to reflect on this and what actions you might take to work on this feedback. A coach can also be employed for a number of sessions at this point if you feel that you need help to work on the areas identified.

Our sessions are tailored to the individual and their requirements, so if you would like to arrange a coaching session, please contact our office and we can match you with a coach who will best fit your specific needs.