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National Inclusion Week: Reframing Diversity & Inclusion

23 Sep 2019
graphic of diverse workplace

After 22 years of global HR experience with FTSE 500 companies, IoD member and Vice Chair (Central London Branch) Reena Dayal set up a boutique leadership acceleration company in 2015 (thecollaborators.org) offering a strategic blend of executive coaching, career mentoring, board level leadership training and HR consulting for C-suite, business owners and CEOs.
A passionate advocate for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), Reena’s experience in the field incorporates leading global diversity implementation for 26 countries for the UK’s largest insurance company. At the heart of the issue, Dayal believes that ‘when D&I strategies are deployed with mastery and integrity, it has the power to galvanise any organisation and be the foundation that can withstand disruption and unpredictability’.

We asked her how relevant were D&I strategies for the SME sector, start-up businesses or those that are at ramp-up stage; she promptly responded. ‘Often D&I is considered to be a large enterprise strategy and traditionally that was true. Two decades ago when this topic became popular and new legislation was introduced in the UK a little more than a decade ago, large companies were duty bound to take action. Some realised the business case was strong and soon it grew more popular with a plethora of D&I awards introduced in the market place.

'In the age of entrepreneurship robust D&I strategies and inclusive leadership behaviours have a strategic impact. They help raise productivity and create the foundation for scale up stage. This is vitally important as stats ups are often strapped for funds and are often under huge pressure to deliver outstanding results with less. Every person must give their best and a sound D&I strategy and Inclusive leadership behaviours holds the key for this to come to fruition. For companies at scale up stage a strong D&I culture backed with robust D&I processes and behaviours can help them leap forward rather than grow incrementally.

'In addition, inclusive leadership behaviours are what can help a start-up founder or a SME business owner create an international and global personal brand that attracts the best talent and investment funding.’

With that cue we took a leaf from her book The Brilliance Quotient, and are delighted to bring you 4 of the 9 levers covered in the chapter - Reframing Diversity.

Do you need to replace the word ‘diversity’ with ‘inclusion’?

In many organisations, diversity is being looked at as a box-ticking, award-winning gimmick. People hear the word diversity and eyebrows rise and eyes glaze over. Efforts are made to get people to sign up to employee forums and it can sometimes be a real effort to raise membership. This is not because of the value it could bring but because people might have past baggage on this topic and so can see through it if it fails to address deep-seated issues.
It is therefore worth checking the value of the word ‘diversity
’ and if it is working for you. If the word is distracting people from what needs to be done about diversity, then you might think about rebranding it and calling it something different.

For some organisations the word ‘inclusion’ has made a difference and they have used in successfully to signal the essence of D&I. Why not ask your employees? It is a great question to ask because they will be engaged; and even if the answer is to continue branding it as ‘diversity’ and/or ‘D&I’, you will have opened the door to honest conversations.

Is diversity more about similarities?

When I stepped out of India for my first work assignment in 2005, I got the chance to have, for the first time in my life, a friend circle that included people from different countries. I was living and working in the heart of the most cosmopolitan city in the world: London. As I grew to love and appreciate the nuances of people across different cultures and origins, I noticed something unique. People are more similar than dissimilar.

Don’t you agree? Although our projection, articulation and language are different, the basics remain the same. Each human being likes to feel respected; each wants to be recognised for his or her achievements; each wishes to contribute; each wants to meet their own survival needs; each wants to be creative; each wants to be happy. Heck, once you look beyond the surface, even the different cuisines have similarities. Why is it, then, that we are only talking about differences when we speak about diversity?

I have seen some diversity training focus hugely on understanding the differences between cultures, abilities and gender. This is important for us to respect unique nuances and differences, but here is the thing: if that’s all we trained people on, it is only a job half done. It is crucial to explore and establish the similarities between people and know how to build on them.

Do we need to train others and ourselves on how we communicate?

Around the topic of D&I, when it comes to communication, verbal and non-verbal cues are the most misunderstood and have the potential to create one of the biggest problems if people do not feel respected.

Many cases of bullying and harassment crop up because of threatening words or behaviours and – in a few cases – are misinterpreted due to differences in peoples’ backgrounds. Here are two basic skills that would dramatically lower the stress levels in any conflicting situation amongst your employees.

First, ask questions from a place of curiosity rather than outright challenge. We all know that challenging the status quo and playing devil’s advocate are key not only to ensuring that we change our ways of working in a changing world, but also to making any new idea that is to be implemented foolproof.
When we open doors to our own levels of curiosity, we reduce the catabolic energetic response inside us to a point of view that we do not agree with. By doing so, we create a space to explore more choices and build on new ideas.

Second, mirror back your understanding. Even though you or the person mirroring back may not finally agree with the viewpoint of the other, two things will happen. First, the other person has been provided with irrefutable proof that he/she was listened to, which will increase the chances of them listening to your viewpoint. Second, you have trained your mind to actively look to explore new ideas and alternative viewpoints. You are training yourself in a life skill.

An interesting phenomenon happens in the background when we do either of the skills mentioned above. We minimise our reflex judgement that is based on our filters of assumptions and limiting beliefs. In other words, we put any unconscious bias that we may carry on ‘pause’.

What do you do with the snake?

There will always be people in an organisation who will bully others who are ‘different’, or who might even be racist or gender defiant in some shape or form. No matter how much we want to deny it, the truth is that such people still exist in many organisations. We see the symptoms of workplace harassment all the time, no matter how much we might ignore this.

The existence of workplace bullying can manifest in a myriad of ways. Examples include but are not limited to: setting unrealistic or impossible goals, threatening job loss, little or no performance feedback, invalid or baseless criticism, fault finding, unwarranted blame, humiliation… the list goes on. But what does a leader do if they notice any of this behaviour? What would you do?

There are two potential actions, really.

One, directed towards the person who is being harassed or bullied, which involves supporting them and letting them know you have their back covered; this is probably the biggest affirmative action that can be taken.

The second action option is towards the bully. What can be done? What if the person in question is well-connected, has support from key stakeholders, consistently delivers well at the workplace or, for that matter, someone you like?

Many leaders, managers and employees are known to be bullies and yet no one takes action or they choose to hide behind processes. It’s quite simple really, in my view. If there’s a snake in your backyard, what do you do? You don’t need to set up a committee to decide what strategy to adopt – you kill it! If someone is a repeat bully, you remove them. 

Reframing your D&I agenda - Putting it into practice

At the end of her chapter, Reena asks her readers the following questions to help them consider their own next steps to reframe D&I.

  1. In your opinion, which of these questions should your business/organisation focus its attention on more to help grow the business. Why?
  2. Who in your leadership team would most benefit from understanding this subject more? What points would you like to make/engage them with?
  3. What is the one thing you could personally start/stop doing to role model or encourage them to reframe how they operate in the diversity and inclusion space?
  4. What unconscious bias do you carry with you? Known and hidden? What are powerful reframes that you could deploy?

To get your hands on a limited edition launch copy of Reena’s book – The Brilliance Quotient - click here.


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