Fortunately, diversity in the workplace has become a subject that we can no longer ignore. Across the world, quotas are being introduced to improve gender representation on corporate boards and the topic is increasingly becoming a priority for HR professionals. But despite this increased interest, less than forty percent of HR professionals take an active role in promoting diversity.
It’s time to face the facts: Diversity needs to be higher up on the agenda. Psychologist Soesja Vogels explains how and why.
Why is diversity important?
When we’re talking about diversity it’s not just about having a variety of genders (which goes beyond simply ‘male’ or ‘female’) but also, for example, a variety of cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnicities, ages, and knowledge specialties.
“Diversity is the first step to inclusion,” Soesja says. And inclusion is important. “Recent research from Utrecht University shows that inclusion has a positive effect on work-related stress, job satisfaction, resignation rates, motivation to progress, and career commitment,” the psychologist explains. This means that diversity promotes well-being. In addition, inclusion ensures improved decision-making. These benefits apply to both minority and majority groups.
“Outwardly, diversity also has a lot of positive effects. We’re talking customer satisfaction, better market positioning, and increased attractiveness to investors.”
“Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
How are inclusion and diversity related? “Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Verna Myers, an advocate for diversity and inclusion, hits the nail on the head by saying: In order to participate, you first need to be invited. And, as humans, we aren’t always great at inviting new people to things.
Why is diversity such a challenge?
Sometimes our brains seem to take on a life of their own. They just do things of their own accord. Waiter: “Enjoy your meal.” You: “Thanks, you too.” Know the feeling? It’s the same when it comes to pigeonholing. Although most of us don’t intentionally think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, our stubborn brains have other ideas.
“Sometimes this tendency to categorize is useful, for example if you want to distinguish between dangerous animals and harmless animals,” explains Soesja. But categorizing can also be less desirable.
Based on our first impression (often external factors) we tend to determine if somebody looks like us. If so, that person belongs to our ‘in-group’. Soesja: “We tend to think of our own in-groups as diverse: We see the differences between these people. Anyone outside of this is in our out-group.
By contrast, we usually see this group as homogenous.” Say you were never in a sorority or fraternity at college, you might decide that all sorority and fraternity members – your out-group – are the same. You stereotype these people and have a bias.
“One type of stereotyping is the ultimate attribution error. We tend to attribute negative behavior carried out by people within our in-group to external factors, for example, she’s being unkind so she must have slept badly. Meanwhile, we often attribute negative behavior carried out by people in our out-group to internal factors: They’re being unkind because they’re antisocial people,” Soesja explains.
And, as a result of this, we’re unconsciously more likely to seek out and hire people who look like us.
Tips for more diversity and inclusivity in the workplace
As already mentioned, increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace has benefits for both minority and majority groups. But how do you do this? These tips might help:
1. Challenge jour prejudices
Try to challenge your prejudices, whether you belong to the so-called majority or the minority. Often, we know very little about our out-groups, which consist of individuals who are just as different from one another as we are from them.
Engage as much as possible with people from diverse backgrounds, both on and off the job. When doing so, be open and curious. Ask questions with the intention of learning, instead of just waiting for a chance to respond.
2. Facilitate conversations
Facilitate conversations between teammates from different backgrounds. “For example, organize meetings that focus on helping people get to know each other,” advises Soesja. The subject of diversity can be either explicit or implicit here.
3. Put diversity on the agenda
Literally put diversity on the agenda: Discuss diversity with your supervisor or the management team. Together, try to identify some areas for improvement.
4. Promote diversity within your organization
If you are involved in HR, try actively working towards promoting diversity within your organization. We’ve already seen how diversity can benefit an organization. This is a great reason to see the differences between potential candidates and your current group as a positive when interviewing for positions.
5. Celebrate everybody’s differences
“People tend to seek to conform when they’re in groups or teams, which means they tone down their differences and you lose that diversity,” Soesja explains from experience. This means you need to make space for everybody’s differences and celebrate them.
How do you communicate?
The previous tips show that communication is central to addressing and encouraging diversity within your organization. This is often easier said than done. Perhaps you’re nervous or you’re anticipating that there’s going to be resistance. These following four steps for effective communication might help you:
- Describe what you’ve observed
- Explain what feelings it evokes in you
- Set out what you need
- Ask questions or offer suggestions
For example, imagine someone has made a comment that stereotypes you. You could respond to this as follows:
Hey, Tim. (1. Observation) Yesterday during my presentation you said I’m pretty smart for someone who plays tennis. (2. Feeling) Obviously, I’m happy that you think I’m intelligent, but the fact you think this is unusual for somebody who plays tennis hurt my feelings. (3. Need) I’d really prefer it if you stopped making jokes about my hobby. (4. Question) Could you work with me by not doing that anymore?
Another method that might help is trying to get the person to figure out for themselves that they’ve done wrong by asking the right questions. For example, ask the person what makes them think the way they do (that people who play tennis aren’t smart) or ask them to make a certain statement. Chances are that the person will get the message. If not, you can always follow up with the four steps for effective communication.
As a result – whatever your background, origin, beliefs or preferences – we’ll all start to feel that bit more connected. Everyone benefits from this and we’ll all be much happier.
Read more? We’re Not All the Same: How to Navigate Cultural Differences