What does diversity really mean? And what is an inclusive workplace

What diversity really means

30 July 2012

There has been a trend towards regarding diversity as diversity of thought rather than diversity of demographics, according to a presenter at a recent conference.

The paper was delivered at the 2012 Women in Management Conference conducted by Macquarie University in Sydney on 12 and 13 July 2012.

Juliet Bourke, human capital partner at Deloitte, said that ‚ ≤diversity’ means inclusion and recognising that everyone has a valid point of view that they should be allowed to contribute. The Noah’s Ark metaphor of every demographic group merely being represented at the workplace is inadequate; behaviour at the workplace must be genuinely inclusive.

Know your own stereotypes

Bourke used the metaphor of a ‚ diversity iceberg, in which certain attributes of people are clearly visible but many others ‚ such as talents, sexual orientation, carer’s responsibilities, education, values, and thought processes ‚ are not obvious. Of the visible attributes, the most instantly identified one is race, followed by a position in the organisation hierarchy, then gender.

Stereotyped reactions result from the identification of personal attributes, leading to bias that is often unconscious. Behaviours of others also send cues that can reinforce stereotypes. A stereotype is a pattern of thinking and can be either positive or negative. Past personal experiences also strongly influence what people think.

To encourage diversity, it is important for people to be able to identify their own stereotypes and then manage around them. Bourke described a commercially available tool, the Implicit Association Test supplied by Harvard University, US, that enables users to identify what they really think about other people.

Common types of unconscious bias

The most common unconscious behaviors that act as barriers to diversity are:

  • homophobic‚  being attracted to people similar to yourself because of a desire to connect with others, which can be awkward in situations such as recruitment interviews
  • confirmation bias ‚ looking for evidence to confirm a viewpoint you have already formed
  • attribution error ‚ categorizing of ‚ in groups and ‚ out groups

Bourke concluded by saying that diversity management requires a holistic organisation approach. People need to be able to understand their own behaviours that act as barriers (e.g. those in the list above). Above all, behaving inclusively is the goal.

Identifying the real reasons for bias

Elizabeth Raper, a barrister, emphasized the importance of digging deep to uncover the real reason for having biases and reacting in stereotyped ways. This can be difficult, and real reasons are often not discussed or even explored. Raper said that it requires thinking very critically about how decisions are made, and managing perceptions about bias. The latter will require some regular and very frank conversations.

She reflected on her courtroom experiences to add that women are often very harsh judges of other women, but are usually allowed to get away with it.

Further information For more information about this conference, visit the Macquarie University conference website.

Article obtained from Work Place Info www.workplaceInfo.com.au 02/08/2012