Since its initial entry in the corporate world, diversity and inclusion has acquired a considerable following. The importance of D&I in organizational context has increased manifold and policies & practices around D&I are becoming almost ubiquitous in the current organizational setup.
There are many misconceptions around this topic that are still doing the rounds. Myths that are being relied on, in the upbeat pursuit of diversity and inclusion. We all would agree that when dealing with incomplete information or lack of understanding on this topic, implementation becomes undeniably difficult. To create a lasting impact, it is important organizations do not bank on common misperceptions but ensure that their journey is fact based.
Some Common Myths
1. Diversity and inclusion are the same
Often diversity and inclusion are used together and are considered having the same meaning. Both these words are interwoven when we think about creating a diverse and inclusive environment and are repeatedly used interchangeably. Though these are correlated, but we fail to acknowledge them as different concepts and the distinct nuances each of these words bring with them.
Diversity is all about human differences in terms of traits like age, race, gender, religion, physical disability, religion, sexual orientation etc. In an organization, it is often assessed in terms of quantity like share of women in the workforce, generational ratio in teams, percentage of PwDs & LGBTQ in different functions, number of women in leadership and so on.
Inclusion on the other hand is a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. It is the extent to which employees feel accepted, valued and appreciated in the organization. If diversity is about quantity, inclusion is about quality. It is about implementing practices, fostering a culture and changing mindsets to make people from different backgrounds feel safe, comfortable and respected.
While diversity and inclusion are not the same but are incomplete without one another. Diversity without inclusion is not justified, and inclusion without diversity is simply hypothetical.
2. D&I is the responsibility of HR
Driving the agenda of Diversity and Inclusion is habitually deemed to be the responsibility of the human resources function. Organizations need to understand whether steering D&I is just a HR initiative or is it truly essential for the growth of business. Leaders who acknowledge this difference and envisage its benefits ensure that driving D&I becomes a part of the DNA of the organization, a business strategy and not merely a HR program. It should be a leadership priority which is embraced by all. It must be the shared responsibility of leaders, managers, supervisors and employees to value diverse employees and make them feel included.
Further, having understood the essence of driving D&I across the organization, it would be unrealistic for HR alone, with limited team and resources to be put up against monumental challenges of bringing in changes in the culture and mindset of an entire organization. It is important for everyone and most importantly leaders, to not just endorse but engage in this entire process.
3. Diversity is all about women and minorities in the workplace
When most of us talk of diversity and the initiatives which support it, we limit our thoughts to only gender and minorities. According to Gallup report 2018, diversity is “the full spectrum of human differences”. Hence, it is not restricted to gender or a certain set of minority groups, but covers other dimensions of diversity like age, disability, ethnic background and also invisible traits like marital status, sexual orientation, background and mindset.
Acknowledging all forms of diversity is important to comprehend how they manifest in the organization and impact its ethos and practices. Being mindful of the fact that every organization is at a different stage in its D&I journey, each facet of diversity has a unique bearing on the culture of the organization. Hence, we need to broaden our view and recognize how diversity will enable organizations to foster a more collaborative workplace.
4. Diversity is a pipeline problem
We often hear that challenges in bringing on board diverse employees is a pipeline problem because there is lack of skilled and qualified candidates from the underrepresented groups in the market, including women, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities or any other minority group in focus. It is true to some extent that some minorities are underrepresented in higher education, particularly in STEM field. But real reasons like recruitment biases confronted by them at the time of hiring, hostile work environment and unfair treatment at work cannot be overlooked. These are the main reason for their attrition and making the pipeline leaky in the first place. Hence, to say that there simply aren’t any skilled candidates in the market is a misconception. It is incorrect for lack of diversity to be reduced to a pipeline problem.
Organizations need to work on these prejudices and introduce inclusive processes and practices to fix the leaky pipeline.
5. Diversity means lowering the bar or violating meritocracy
One of the most commonly cited rationales against D&I is that companies are meritocratic and to be diverse will have to compromise the quality of the people they are hiring. In such scenarios, companies mistake uniformity for quality. By citing meritocracy as a justification for hiring, employers try to match the candidates with existing majority and are unwillingly to look for talent from less common sources. So, in reality, meritocracy intentionally or unintentionally perpetuates bias and discrimination as the assessment methods used for hiring, compensation, promotion etc are rife with subjectivity. Hence, it is not completely wrong to say that it is the other way round – At times, meritocracy leads to lower levels of diversity!
Organizations need to think beyond meritocracy, evaluate the benefits of diversity and assess candidates and employees against more concrete, non-discriminatory indicators of performance. This will ensure that their staff is both diverse and high quality simultaneously.
By doing away with these fallacies, organizations can accept diversity and inclusion, not as a problem but as an opportunity. Opportunity to build a significantly diverse and inclusive workplace which can give them the edge as an employer of choice and the ability to be innovative and drive profitable decision making.