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It seems like every other day there is a new story of racial profiling, discrimination, and pay inequities in the workplace. Within the last few years, there has been a heightened spotlight on workplace diversity and inclusion.
With the increased focus on diversity and inclusion there has also been considerable pushback. One of the most notable examples of this in recent news occurred in 2017 when former Google engineer James Damore was fired after writing an internal memo where he claimed that the lack of female representation in the tech industry is due to women’s capabilities. Damore filed a lawsuit against Google alleging that the company discriminates against white men with less popular political views. Companies are pouring millions of dollars into their corporate diversity programs, many of which are ineffective. With the amount of money spent on diversity and inclusion programs, leadership expects to see an immediate return on their investment. While the evidence indicates that diversity does positively impact revenue and the profitability of companies, there is still a lot of skepticism and pushback when these programs are implemented. The skepticism is valid, given the number of diversity and inclusion programs that fail or are ineffective at changing long-term behaviors. A number of diversity and inclusion programs may also come off inauthentic. Unconscious bias training and inclusion workshops are often implemented as a reactionary measure after a company experiences a scandal, which may plant seeds of doubt regarding the authenticity of the program. Some may wonder why organizations don’t put a focus or an emphasis on diversity until it’s too late. Ineffective programs along with the timing of implementation can lead to feelings of diversity fatigue. Diversity fatigue can be thought of as a feeling of exhaustion in regard to diversity and inclusion issues. When employees have doubts regarding the validity of a diversity and inclusion program, this only makes change more difficult. Given the increased attention on diversity issues, one of the negative outcomes may be that people have grown weary and tired of talking about diversity.
Overcoming the doubts of employees and management who may not believe that the diversity and inclusion program will deliver a return on the investment can be quite challenging but is not impossible. It may be a good idea to consider the labeling of the program—consider removing the label ‘diversity’ from the program or from the title. Just the word diversity conjures up different images for people, some of which are not positive, so changing the language that is used to describe the program can be a simple yet effective way to gain buy-in. Words like belonging and incorporation may be more efficient.
For many companies, diversity and inclusion includes an affirmative action program. Affirmative action programs were designed to create more opportunities for groups who have been historically disadvantaged. When affirmative action is done correctly, it is an excellent way to create more workplace equity, research suggests. When done incorrectly, however, it further exacerbates cynicism and doubt. The argument has been made the affirmative action is a form of reverse discrimination, with some claiming that favoritism toward women and minorities is unconstitutional. A notable case where this was demonstrated was a lawsuit filed by Abigail Fisher, a white woman who claimed that she lost her acceptance at the University of Texas at Austin due to her skin color. Fisher felt that preferential treatment was given to minority students when she was more qualified to receive admission in the university. There is much contention regarding how affirmative action programs should be implemented, with differing views regarding whether it should entail expanding the pipeline to make it more diverse or showing preferential treatment to equally qualified female and minority applicants. Although there will always be debate surrounding affirmative action, if employees had a better understanding of what their company’s affirmative action program involved, this may reduce the negative feelings that employees feel regarding their diversity and inclusion program. Leadership should be transparent regarding the usage of affirmative action programs and there should be an objective process in place for selecting employees as well as for promotion and pay. Objectivity will create more organizational justice and can prevent workplace inequality (or the perception of it).
Diversity doesn’t just benefit people from diverse backgrounds who, because of more inclusive policies are able to be hired, paid equally, promoted and treated fairly. Diversity benefits the entire organization by propelling more creativity and innovation into the workplace. Besides the moral good that accompanies treating people with respect, there are a number of documented benefits that diversity brings to the workplace. Despite how tired you may be about hearing the words diversity and inclusion, failing to put a concerted effort on diversity and inclusion management can have deleterious effects on your organization. Overcoming the diversity fatigue that America is experiencing will require time. Recognizing the negative connotations associated with the words diversity and inclusion is also important—modifying the name of your diversity and inclusion programs may help increase their palatability. Lastly, creating more objective systems to base employment decisions off of can foster more equity and inclusion in the workplace and can slow the diversity and inclusion fatigue that America is feeling.
By Janice Gassam
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