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Tackling workplace discrimination in 2020

How will 2020 help the fight against workplace discrimination?

As we embark on a new year at the start of a new decade, it’s a time for all of us to reflect on the past 12 months – and to look ahead to what 2020 is likely to bring. Alongside the more traditional business financial goals and performance targets, it’s worth applying the same exercise to diversity and inclusion. How is 2020 likely to help the fight against workplace discrimination?

I predict more transparency this year in the measurement of inclusion. The emphasis will be on creating an environment where everyone with the capability to do so can excel – and that means bringing people into an environment that is absolutely ready for them. The time has come for business leaders to accept that decisions which have kept them ‘safe’ in the past may not be the right decisions for the new decade. Letting your bias rule and relying on the same people you’ve traditionally relied on – people who are similar to you – may not keep you safe in the new decade. It’s time to feel the fear and take a chance. It’s not about hiring people you don’t like – it’s about learning to like more people. That will be crucial in the coming year.

A phrase we are likely to hear more of in 2020 is “ask yourself what you could know and what you should know”. Before you hire anyone, before you make decisions about anyone, before you put someone on a project team, before you promote someone… what could you know and what should you know? And the opposite of that is also true – before you reject someone, before you decide they’re not ready to be a leader, before you decide you don’t want them on your team, before you decide they won’t be capable… what could you know and what should you know? It’s time to explore the information hidden behind the assumptions driven by your biases – information that will often hold the key to good decision making.

We are seeing the beginning of the death of the CV – and that is likely to accelerate during 2020 as gamification plays a bigger role in the hiring process. Artificial intelligence is already being used to create games around cognitive, emotional and behavioural traits in a bid to eliminate bias – and this is likely to increase in the coming months. Organisations that have used systems like this have expanded the diversity of their applicants as well as the people they hire. It may also mean we see the beginning of the death of the privilege of highly qualified people from the ‘right’ colleges. But I think that’s still some way off, although obviously Millennials and Generation Z applicants have an advantage when it comes to the gamification of recruitment.

An interesting juxtaposition is also likely to benefit the fight against discrimination this year. The global political climate seems to be against inclusion and diversity – with leaders portraying themselves as not seeking equality and diversity, and the rise of extreme politics and conversations around immigration and sexism. Yet at a time when we would have expected to see organisations supporting such leaders, we are actually seeing the opposite. Organisations are redoubling their inclusion and diversity efforts, almost as if they feel the need to protect themselves against what is going on in the outside world.

The other thing we can expect to see in 2020 is a huge rise in hard-hitting business leaders who are very demanding but also prepared to be vulnerable and show their humility – and with that comes inclusion. If you are a leader who is pretending to be perfect and putting forward an invulnerable position, you are unlikely to be seen as accessible and you are unlikely to be humble enough to really use diversity to drive inclusion. Whereas if you admit you don’t have all the answers – and are prepared to listen to people who do – you have to be truly inclusive.

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