People & Leadership

Diversity in the workplace: Why it’s important

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As business leaders, we all want:

  1. To recruit the very best staff into our companies
  2. To promote our staff on merit and their contribution
  3. Our staff to feel that they are in an inclusive environment where they can thrive

Unconscious bias

Unfortunately we can fall short of achieving this due to our own unconscious bias.

The Equality Challenge unit defines unconscious bias as: ‘our background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context can have an impact on your decisions and actions without you realising.

Implicit or unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising.

Challenge yourself

These judgements and assessments can be helpful, for example, if I see someone coming towards me with a weapon, I think danger, and I run and protect myself. However sometimes these connections need to be challenged.

Perhaps I think women are better in Human Resources because of their higher level of empathy and men are better in Sales because of their ability to close deals, what does that mean for your employees and your organisation? Well these biases could definitely get in the way of recruiting the best staff, promotions based on merit and an environment where all feel included.

Maybe you are reading and this and patting yourself on the back and thinking, I am a fair and unbiased leader. Unfortunately that is unlikely to be the case, we all have biases, including me. I recommend that you take Harvard Implicitly Test and become aware of what your biases are.

Once you are aware what do you do? Here are 3 suggestions begin developing your Inclusive Leadership skills:

Actively and deliberately widen your circle

Do you surround yourself with people who are similar to you, whether that is education, nationality, ethnicity, age, disability, or sexual orientation? How could you widen your circle of people you know and come into contact with?

Don’t make decisions on your own

Engage different perspectives when making decisions, recruiting staff in groups rather than one off appointments can highlight a bias for a certain type of recruit. If you are doing panel interviews, ask how diverse your panel is.

This may prolong or even agitate decision-making, but your process should be more robust and have better outcomes.

Know your ‘why’ and share it

If things are going well in your business, you could consider diversity as a nice to have rather than an imperative. Apart from the evidence that shows that businesses with a more diverse workforce are more competitive, you should have a compelling why on what makes it important to you.

Perhaps you have children and you want them to have a fair shot at success in the workplace, or a good friend hasn’t had the opportunities that you have because of their background, or you’d seen injustice in past workplaces. Use this ‘why’ to anchor you on making a difference.

Being an inclusive leader is not an event; it is a continuing journey of awareness. Attempt it with good intentions and you will be forgiven for your mistakes along the way.