The domino effect of traditional systems filtering diversity
Wondering what stands in the way of more diversity in the workspace, and how that relates to the level of society? Keep reading to find out more about the different aspects we need to consider within our diverse society.
Recently, we have noticed more interest and questions from big organisations and the corporate world, who want to understand how to diversify their workplace. We are often asked to provide consultancy and practical advice on how to improve workplace diversity and inclusivity.
Once sat around the corporate table, their issues do not surprise us.
The barriers they experience when trying to diversify their staffing often begins with a misunderstanding of what diversity really means. We do not aim to judge anyone. Many people have a limited understanding of the full spectrum of everything the word ‘diversity’ encompasses. Truly understanding what diversity means comes from academic study or lived experience, which is what a lot of employers or employees haven’t yet faced.
Let us explain the world of diversity and paint you a broader picture:
Humanity, in general, is evolving at a fast pace, technologically, conceptually and socio-geographically. Whilst the conceptual world has been changing and people have been migrating to different countries, the notion of diversity hasn’t entirely changed with the times.
Whilst a rich cultural exchange is happening between individuals, workplaces haven’t fully adjusted their tools to understanding diversity. Because until recently, diversity was merely a notion for describing people of the same culture that are different, for example along lines of sex and gender.
We haven’t yet fully changed our traditionally institutionalized thinking, just as much as we haven’t fully adapted our thinking around diversity. We have been taught to adhere to some notions of “society” that have now changed, but we haven’t learnt to digest all the different ways of thinking that have come with a more diverse society.
Diversity is not just about race, but it is an area of diversity in the workplace that has big strides to make. In this piece, we want to focus on diversity as an element of culture.
Globally, there hasn’t been enough education on how different cultures can live together and understand each other, and a lot of the essential and fundamental questions haven’t been brought to the table.
True understanding comes from frank and open conversations. By trying not to offend each other and ask (sometimes) sensitive cultural questions, we risk misunderstandings by trying not to appear ignorant or culturally insensitive. We often miss the opportunity to answer fundamental questions about our cultural and diverse identities. Ignorance is different than knowing and being indifferent. But ignorance doesn’t get answers, and a lack of curiosity to learn about different cultures makes us indifferent to issues of diversity.
But most people don't know so much about how others think and function at their core.
Most people don’t understand the foundation of other cultures and what shapes the way they think and interact. And when such differences arise in our diverse societies, we tend to think there’s something wrong with them, because we can’t agree with what we don’t understand them.
Our lack of understanding about others’ background and their different needs has made us oblivious to the fact that societal systems don’t reflect and don’t support the growth of the diverse individuals in our society. This also reflects in the professional sector, the workspaces and the systems that keep them running.
Companies have evolved to grow, yet have recruitment practices that haven’t changed for a heterogenous society. In the professional sector, diversity is mostly seen as a matter of sex and gender, and the practices adopted to “diversify” staffing only focus on balancing the number of men and women around the office!
Whilst we appreciate reading different company websites that praise the “diverse” environment that companies have- they often only reflect one aspect of diversity.
If your company has a picture of people from a predominantly white background with (almost) equal numbers of men and women your business may have gender diversity, but it still doesn’t reflect the current society, its peoples’ interests and potential. Someone’s sex is only one consideration.
Here is why we encourage employers to diversify their team:
The people in a company reflect a value system that the company stands for, their ethos. The more people you have of the same background - the bigger the chances of them all thinking in the same way. Why?
Diversity is a barrier in society even before professional recruitment happens. The recruitment for a job is just another part of the chain. Most companies look for a very specific profile in their candidates: a graduate from specific universities, a holder of specific qualifications, a person with experience working for competitors or other high-profile companies etc. These examples demonstrate the bias of selection filters that priviledge certain backgrounds over others. But these criteria’s don’t necessarily mean someone will be better at the role.
And that’s not the only filter: The students that attend a high-profile university already have a different background to others that are as skilled but can’t afford to do so. These universities already have a selection criteria in place that favour the privileged. Because the reality is one’s potential is not enough to open some doors, and elements such as social class and financial status nearly always come into play.
Students are then taught in specific ways that have been adopted and tailored by the university and receive information that is designed, curated and passed on homogenously to all of them. These methods and information then leave their footprint in the knowledge, professional approach and work ethics of the students that are soon to become professionals.
When you hire someone fitting the profile desired by the company, it only means you’re hiring more people with very similar professional thinking patterns, that adhere to a similar professional culture, that was nurtured by similar teaching systems. This means your employees (or peers) will mostly know how people like them think (which is okay if that is what you aim for). Your business will then only go on to have a similar approach. Your employees’ work will reflect and address people that resonate/reflect the same category and background as theirs.
In a society that is so diverse, this means that professional services are segmenting society (consciously or unconsciously) by hiring specific pools of individuals fit a traditional idea of a perfect candidate.
If your marketing team has to implement a campaign abroad, chances are you would also hire someone from the designated country, because you know they would give you the local expertise of someone that understands the intricacies of the market there. But diversity is no longer just abroad, diversity is where you live. The “abroad” has moved around and is now in your city. So why don’t we address the situation with the same approach?