In recent years I started learning about minorities, attending events, and meeting people who have been advocating diversity. There were many times when representatives of companies shared successful stories how they embraced diversity & inclusion in workplaces, but when asked if this is a one-time thing that happened due to good luck, or they have policies supporting it, they freeze. Usually efforts end with anti-bias training and there are no solid checks and balances to not only to support inclusion but make those success stories recurrent practice.
During one event, CEO of a successful company said to the crowd: “We don’t need to police people with rules, because we welcome all, do not care about skin color, age, gender, ability or background”. His approach is a step to the right direction, but it’s not enough. If you don’t care about the whole person, don’t take time to recognize differences, you will never understand issues that marginalized groups are facing. With this thinking you will remain a part of the problem, not solution. Aspiration to be better, is just that – aspiration. Success can be achieved when it can be measured, and knowledge-based decisions are driving force for it.
This is where having policies in place, combined with culture, can make a real difference and change our work environment. Here is why:
- Policies show that company took the time to consider situations from minorities perspective and are taking responsibility for creating safe environment for all. It evokes trust and demonstrates integrity, which in a buzz word, pop culture is a rare quality to find.
- Employees can be assured that in sticky situations, things won’t be mended to benefit majority. It’s easy to slip and do convenient thing, “just this time”, when no one is looking, instead of always sticking to the right thing. Leave no room for doubt and you’ll prevent biases.
- People have different emotional and social intelligence and some folks to understand another human, how they think/feel may not be as easy. It has nothing to do with bad intentions, but it’s time to switch from ignorance to awareness. Companies have the best resources and structures to do that. Own it.
- They provide alignment, consistency, clarity and guide towards purpose. Sure, purpose is felt and lived, but until there’s a deep and rational understanding, following it will feel like chasing unattainable ideal. Write things down, make the path clear and getting there will be effortless.
- No matter how “woke” people in your company are, there will be times when conflict and misunderstandings arise due to our differences. Human bias is widespread because our brains are wired for it. We look for patterns we recognize; we seek for comfort, so we choose easy, we want safety, so we pick familiar. To deny human nature, put oneself above it and say, “I don’t do that”, already shows ignorance and arrogance.
Policy does not need to be a weapon which gives permission to police and punish people. They could be guidelines and conversation starters when needed, focus on strengths and give a helping hand for those who want it. Policy can be a promise and commitment that shape not only our work culture, but a healthy, compassionate society.