I’ve been involved in a lot of debates about diversity and inclusion recently. The conversations are fascinating and the views diverse in themselves. With one particular area of seemingly strong consensus when confronting the issues that we face;
It’s never our fault.
Of course, this is completely natural. We all like to think of ourselves as liberal minded, inclusive and welcoming people (well most of us). It’s just everyone else, they’re the problem.
Going back over thirty years I can remember my Grandmother telling me she wasn’t a racist like those other people, she even used the “Paki shop”. Whilst we can all look at this with the shock that time permits, she genuinely meant it. But this isn’t a generational thing, how many of us can hand-on-heart, honestly say that we don’t have perceptions and expectations of the opposite gender?
So if we all want this all inclusive, welcoming, meritocracy, what gets in the way?
When we talk about the culture of our organisations, we talk about the way in which people behave, the way in which people act towards one another, we talk about our values and we talk about the way in which we do things.
In HR we talk about how we can underpin the culture with our interventions; recruiting to fit, rewarding to incentivise, training to develop and structuring to facilitate. We build our organisations to reinforce the very cultures that contradict our conscious intention.
Culture gets in the way of and we reinforce the culture through our actions and our formal and informal systems. It’s rarely our intent.
The challenge we have is to get beneath intent and start to challenge these behaviours, systems and structures. Which invariably means challenging the way in which we feel naturally comfortable in doing things, how we make decisions and how we design our businesses.
Diversity and inclusion aren’t improved by tokenism, “programmes” or initiatives. They can’t be when our organisations are still constructed around an infrastructure that is decidedly “exclusive” and rewards people for conformity of behaviour and compliance to a set of unwritten rules.
The start of the path to improving organisational inclusivity is recognising that we are all part of the problem. The smallest act, or use of language multiplied a million times a week, the unintended consequence of doing something the way we’ve always done, the choices and decisions that we’ve learnt to make.
We have the power to make things better, we can choose to make a change, but in order to do that we need to do two things; accept that we are not ok and that, at the end of the day, it IS all our fault.