As an awarded diversity champion, there is one thing I can say about companies and organizations that wanted to become inclusive, diverse, and highly effective.
Diversity is not a noun, it is a 'verb.' Diversity should be celebrated not something to be used as a weapon against lawsuits and the "me-too environment."
While I say 'to be celebrated' I do not mean, the song, dance, festivals, and 'smell-my-shirt' exercises. These are superficial gestures that do not translate to meaningful and profound change in the workplace- a healthy and positive work environment for all.
Diversity should not be a politically correct thing to have, it is present in all humanity, not just for minorities, differently-abled, and those that have visible differences amongst us. Everyone is different and is to be respected and valued as contributing force to the organization and society in general.
While companies and public organizations strive to become the epitome of inclusion, the pendulum has swung far too much. From forced self-identification, joining the bandwagon, creating massive investments when it is not necessary, and using aggressive tactics to win over the majority have become the "self-destruction' tools" so to speak. When it has been distorted that way, it loses its potency for social transformation.
Since the 1960s and 1980s, the proverbial 'glass ceiling' for women leaders especially for the C-suites had been addressed. Yet until now, it is still a huge issue. I don't think there is an actual glass ceiling. I believe that right now, it is about women not trying at all and afraid to take the leadership position and turn it around for their benefit and advantage. Last time I checked, it is as wide open as anyone with the breadth of experience, high-level of education, and tenacious personality that can withstand corporate politics and organizational pressures.
We need to push back on distorted diversity and inclusion. This is not what we want either. We should turn our back against the mob-based bashing and hate-mongering that uses our differences for political ends. Sorry, I am not joining your march.
Let us understand that diversity and inclusion is a verb. It contains specific behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets that needed to be integrated in our everyday conversations and interactions with each other as we make our workplaces the best place to enhance and enrich our professional, hence our personal lives too.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS AND BE PREPARED TO LISTEN
There is no better place than asking employees what would make each one of them feel truly valued, respected, and included in both their work as employees, as part of the team, and as a contributor of the organizational culture.
I worked with a municipal organization as a newcomer immigrant. This was totally an alien culture to me, not just the North American workplace culture, but working in a government organization interfacing with Canadians. It was coming all at once at the same time. It was difficult for the first few years adjusting to myriad of issues, interests, and differences!
If you were the HR personnel in change of inclusion practices, how would you get a newcomer employer to talk openly about themselves and learn more about their co-workers in an atmosphere of respect and trust and vice-versa? How would you create the conditions and situations where it is safe and friendly but genuine?
COMMIT TO MAKING INCLUSION AN EVERYDAY PRACTICE
In the news, we hear about lawsuits and counter-lawsuits of many types and of various situations involving diversity and inclusion. It is time to turn the issue around- from reactive work to proactive, preventative, relationship-building work which for most part, is what really about. There is no short cut.
From accommodation, we should move towards real integration towards healthy, inclusive, and innovative communities of work. The accommodation era is over. Special treatments and accommodation arrangements do not actually reflect the kinds of changes that needed to happen in the organization to embed inclusion. These artificial stop-gap measures increase the antagonism and defensiveness instead build cooperation from those employees that became disadvantaged because of it. There is not a lot of resources to go around in the first place.
Instead of pitting groups over the other, companies should invest in everyday culture work that involves not only building camaraderie and collegial atmosphere but by picking up on ways to incorporate diverse voices in issues that affect employees at all levels of organization.
IT SHOULD RESULT TO OUTSTANDING BOTTOM-LINE RESULTS
Diverse and inclusive organizations are leaders and trailblazers in their own right. They have turned the potent bomb of diversity to work for themselves. They celebrated it and rejoice in its fullest expression which leads to more innovation and cutting-edge work. The best minds are harnessed and harvest as a policy, not an exception.
True diversity and inclusion work starts in knowing the long-term business value of these efforts and why it should be a recipe for success for all organizations, for now and for the near future.
Diaspora, immigrant communities, global travellers and citizens offer more than global stories and exciting exotic foods-they hold several assets that needed to be maximized. Cultural knowledge, international perspectives, remittance, know-how, linguistic fluency, heritage, connections. These are some of the links that needed to be made in the minds of decision makers, executives, planners, leaders, and doers.
In this day and age, the local is global and the global is local. People that are comfortable with the binary of either local or global is obviously missing the whole point. It is the same people demanding a practitioner to either specialize or die. I would say specialize and die!
Here are some of the pointers to bring full circle the wealth of international and intercultural assets found in the diaspora/ immigrant/ and international/global citizens.
1. Companies, organizations, and governments are beginning to reflect the diversity found in the population, consumers, employee base, and their neighborhoods. This brings back to the question- the global is local and the local is global. It is no longer a foreign idea to seek out global talent from the pool that is right in your backyard at the same time look for global ideas to enhance your local situation.
2. The global remittance should result in improved lives of families working overseas and the kinds of infrastructure, support and growth opportunities should reflect that in each country.
3. The bridge between the new country and the old country must give way to a fluid interconnectivity that is not alien but an inherent identity of the immigrant community. Our sense of nationalism comes from our sense of humanity. Regardless of whether we have strong clear ties to another nation, the same ills, sets of problems and issues beset other places, and there is more reason to collaborate than to compete for competition’s sake!
4. Companies with global reach across the world cannot afford to alienate local cultural characteristics that made each country, region, cultural group, tribe, and community different and unique. McDonald's with the global franchise can afford to culturally adapt to the local taste in order to compete with the local favorite. Cultural intelligence is a pre-requisite for a successful business internationally.
5. It is time for globally trained people to push back and be proud of where they come from, the countries and locations they worked, the things that they have seen and experienced, the cultures they have tasted, learned, and imbibed. This sets them apart from the competition. Do not forget your assets and relegate it to lower import just because you have moved to a new country and wanted to assimilate and not appear different- be proud about it.
The next generation of jobs and employment and careers for the near future are those that cannot be done by robots and artificial intelligence. Are you honing that intercultural, international, and global expertise and talents that you possess? Bring it out and dominate your field.
A couple of years ago, wearing a hat as an intercultural actor in a municipality where it had been labelled the “murder capital” of Canada, my life was busy as bee. After three and a half years of community engagement, I wrote a few lines to reflect on my experience, lessons learned, small and big triumphs and thought I may have to put it away somewhere where other community leaders and innovators can benefit and also resonate from.
Experience is the best teacher. No amount of textbook theory can prepare you for a community engagement solving a social problem that is very complex and rarely follow a neat paradigm of solutions. With the help of staunch community leaders and brave volunteers, I completed the diversity project and generated strong positive feedback from all those people -women, children, youth, faith leaders, churches, businesses, and whole host of other important actors in the community. While we hope that there are significant sustainable outcomes from the project, one thing that was very clear from the onset, the office where the project was birthed and the people who rallied behind it were the same people working towards social cohesion and intercultural understanding until now. Not surprising, right?
Promoting and advocating for diversity and intercultural harmony calls for courage. In the midst of polarization, division, and hatred that are around us, we can take comfort that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Let us be that light.
For fellow travelers in the intercultural engagement journey, here are some of the lessons learned as a food for thought.
1. Creatively work through the systems- whether it’s the political, cultural, institutional, religious, generational, organizational, etc., including hierarchies, philosophies and other surprises. These systems are present and operating in the lives of people and communities. Navigate carefully. While it is easy to criticize and point the blame, it is beneficial to be constructive and solutions-oriented.
2. Gather support from the outside, inside, out there, in here, and all around. It is better to form weird alliances than to fight alone. Listen to everyone that has a story to tell. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times. You will never know what can possibly get produced with ideas that are not censored just because it doesn’t come from the top. Maximize interconnectivity.
To be continued.............................
Looking for new people to appoint on your boards, committees, and commissions for next year? Why not take a closer look on how you can diversify the board to attract the best set of talent.
We all know the benefits of a diversified group of people that are aligned on a specific task, goal, project or mandate. Intelligent organizations harness, cultivate, and encourage this diversification in order that the fruits of real collaboration, creativity, and non-linear thinking are reaped.
Some of these benefits are:
1. Diverse Boards bring added value and competence
Boards that come from diverse backgrounds in terms of age, ethnicity, faith, ability, educational attainment, occupation and socio-economic level have a differentiated understanding of the social realities that civic and voluntary organizations face on a day-to-day basis. They are keen in generating solutions to complex problems through creative appraisal and through their own exposure from their ethno-cultural or social environments. These cultural and social intelligence add a dimension to creative problem solving and collective decision-making work.
2. Diverse Boards expand the horizon of the organization
Organizations undergoing strategic planning or long-term organizational change management can benefit from a diverse set of committee members. They provide the “eyes and ears” of the organization from the wider communities of practitioners and a strategic outreach to the expertise, experience and contacts the organization needs in order to achieve its strategic/business plan and projects. With the right combination of expertise in the Board, the organization will have the potential to ‘stretch’ itself to be flexible and viable especially during financial hardship and/or leadership/organizational crisis.
3.Diverse Boards challenge the status quo
Diverse boards bring to the table a variety of perspectives that may challenge the ‘usual’ way of doing and looking at issues. They are confident about their experiences, perspectives, and insights coming from their unique backgrounds and life/work experiences that will bring to bear in formulating new paradigms of practice and skills necessary to navigate governance and leadership issues as they arise.
4. Diverse Board is a project of the whole organization
The Executives and the members of the organization should endeavor to find the right mix of diversity within their Board at a given time. It takes conscientiously effort in bringing the combination of expertise, experience, and diverse backgrounds that will complement the organizations’ capacity and ability to manage change in a sustainable way. The organization should be ready and able to embrace a diversifying set of governance leaders that are equally empowered to make change happen. This diversification can take years until its place is secured in the values and best practice of the organization.
Are you ready to take on a diverse board? Is your organization ready to reap the rewards from it? Not yet, check out my next blog on what to do.