Do Organizations Have Diversity and Inclusion Wrong? Part 2

When you look around your team, department or organization, how much diversity do you see? When you examine the leadership and power structures, how much gender and colour diversity is reflected in the key decision makers in your organization? When positions open up, how much effort is put into recruiting with diversity in mind?

Despite the research that indicates greater diversity of experience, culture, education, gender and more in a team, department or organization leads to more creative, innovative and better solutions to issues that matter, organizations continue to struggle to break through systemic barriers. This is true even when Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Policies are in place.

Definitions of Inclusion

The dictionary definition of inclusion is: the act or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Which takes us back to the questions in the previous post on whether we, as white people, have inclusion all wrong: who is doing the including and into what? What group? What structure? Who is being offered inclusion and at what cost?

If the invitation is into an existing structure, does it mean that in order to enter that structure those who are “invited” need to change to “fit” into or be included in the structure? Or, are we willing to change the structures and processes to support a different kind of conversation and organizational culture? This is a key question many organizations need to be asking as a next step in their D&I policy implementation.

Workplace Diversity and Inclusion policies and programs have attempted to expand the definition of inclusion. An example is: “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.” Despite this, Diversity and Inclusion programs fail far more often than they succeed and, in many companies, the statistics around inclusion get worse.

Who Decides?

Who decides what is equal access? Who decides who can contribute fully? Who decides what is fair treatment? Who creates the structures, processes and rewards that support D&I policies? Were there other organizational structure or process changes made to support the D&I policy and behaviour change or do all the decision makers still look the same as before the policy was created? This is often a significant gap between the development of policy and implementation of it.

An examination of The Systems Thinking Iceberg can point to the gaps and offer strategies for changing worldviews to support the implementation of diversity and inclusion policies

An Organizational Worldview Shift May Be Required For Diversity to Take Root

Policy doesn’t tell us how to talk about the reality of inclusion and whether it is succeeding or failing? Like many change initiatives, when it comes to implementation the sentiment is often, we want the organization to change but we don’t want any disruption that might come with this change. We certainly don’t want to have to change as individuals, especially if we believe that means we have to give up something, like status or power.

To make D&I policies effective, a worldview shift and all that accompanies it is needed. The Worldview Intelligence Six Dimensions Framework helps us be explicit about where the blocks and the gaps are so they can be addressed. Is it showing up in the day to day reality or experience of our employees? What does this tell us about practices that will make day to day experiences more welcoming and inclusive? How have historical patterns in our organization been embedded in our organizational systems and what systems do we need to build anew to support a future that welcomes, values and incorporates more diversity? What do our values say about our core commitments and do we live these values? What sources of knowledge can we draw on and build into our systems to shift our power structures?

Six Dimensions Framework

Organizations Are Built on/from White Culture

Is it because it is white culture trying to define what it means to be inclusive but unable to see the very structures that prevent diversity and inclusion? I have just finished an eye-opening Whiteness in the Workplace online program offered by the Adaway Group.

Organizations are built on white structures, values, principles and priorities. Whiteness is the baseline. So much so that as a white person, it is just the way it is and has always been. It makes sense. It is hard to comprehend there is another way that could be built on different structures, values, principles and priorities. In our book, Building Trust and Relationship at the Speed of Change, we explore how being part of a dominant culture means many aspects of that culture are invisible to people who are part of it.

Changing the Structures Designed to Reward Us As White People is Hard Work

Learning to be inclusive in a way that makes a difference is not easy work, especially for those of us who are white. It asks us as white people to change the structures that have always favoured us. These structures are like the air we breathe. We can’t see them, but they keep us “alive” – or at least they keep our notions of who we believe ourselves to be alive. They support our sense of identity. And we cling to these structures because this is how we know what we know, how we understand the world around us, how we determine our value and how we know we are good human beings. Loss aversion has us attached to what we know and afraid for what we do not yet know or have not yet discovered.

There are other ways to structure our organizations. Instead of reducing your perceived value as a white person they may expand your value as a human being. As white people, how do we redefine who we are, how we show up and what our priorities are to be able to create new systems that build diverse, inclusive and welcoming organizations and communities for everyone who works or lives there?

(This is part 2 of a 2-part series on inclusion and diversity. Part 1 focuses on whether we, as white people, have inclusion all wrong.)