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Nowadays, there is increasing attention given to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace – and with good reason. When companies take the right approach to enhancing DEI within their workplace, the positive impact can often be seen rippling across the entire organization – including improved employee engagement, reduced absenteeism, and enhanced innovation.

As the corporate world continues to evolve vis-à-vis its attitude and approach to DEI, organizations will also need to re-adjust their approach when it comes to creating a happy and healthy workplace. And I can think of no better way to start than to rethink what we actually mean by diversity in the first place.

Part 1: Rethinking what we mean by diversity

Diversity is so much more than just what we see
A while back, I was co-leading a happiness-at-work training program when one of our much-loved clients sounded the alarm and raised her concern that there wasn’t any real diversity within the program. And to our client’s credit, her comment instigated a truly insightful series of discussions which led our team on a journey of self-reflection and in taking concrete steps to increase the diversity within the program, which ultimately improved the program itself. Because she was right – with very few non-white people included in the program’s delivery, we were clearly missing some critical voices and perspectives from a number of underrepresented communities.

But she was also wrong because, while we may not have had a lot of visible diversity, in fact we had far more diversity than met the eye. We didn’t have good representation from the Hispanic, indigenous, or black communities and we needed to do better. Yet diversity goes far beyond just visible differences – you can have diversity of thought, socioeconomic background, religious beliefs, lived experience, political views, and so on. Within the program, we had good representation from people across various countries, cultures, education levels and work backgrounds; within the LGBTQ+ community; within different family structures (including working parents); and within the disability sector, among others.

So here’s the question: how do we make sure diversity doesn’t get reduced to just mean the differences we can see? How do we help ensure diversity means more than just checking the gender or visible minority box?

Insight from Arthur Woods, DEI expert
A few months after we started re-evaluating our program’s diversity, it was with real pleasure that I had the chance to discuss DEI in more detail with Arthur Woods, author of “Hiring For Diversity”, for the 2021 Global Online Happiness at Work Summit. Arthur’s perspective on the link between DEI and workplace happiness was fascinating, and he shared his insight on how the Covid-19 ‘great resignation’ situation has been impacting diversity within the workplace:
“So many employers said ‘we need to hire more diverse people’. But instead of asking themselves what they actually mean by diversity, they ended up just using the definition that immediately comes to mind, and they went out and hired those people. This led to a lot of tokenizing different populations, limiting the definition of diversity to aspects that are visible, and also not accounting for how to make sure individuals brought into the organization are included and feel a sense of belonging. So ‘diverse hire’ ended up meaning gender and ethnic diversity, and not really much more.”

Looking back on the discussion with my concerned client, Arthur’s assessment of how we tend to over-simplify the definition of diversity rings true. Let’s say, for example, half of the men and women in our program had been a visible minority but the group was otherwise very homogeneous; I doubt anyone would have raised the alarm and expressed concern about our lack of diversity, because at least on the surface, we were ticking all the right “diversity” boxes. Yet if we stick to this narrow definition, we end up missing out on the true benefits and opportunities that a DEI workplace can offer.

Simple ways to positively impact DEI within your team

  • Get to know yourself a bit better. Reflect on your current diversity awareness (check out this quick and free assessment here!) Pay attention to who you’re learning from and where you’re getting your information. Explore your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to diversity; self-reflect to get a better sense of your own unconscious bias (Harvard developed a free tool to help identify your blind spots and bias – check it out here!)
  • Educate yourself on different viewpoints and communities. Find opportunities to ask people for their perspectives, their stories, etc. Listen with curiosity rather than judgement, and make a conscious effort to lead with empathy and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • You don’t need to go out and hire a bunch of new people to add to your team’s diversity – chances are, it’s actually far more diverse than you realize. The spirit of this is to hear as many different voices and perspectives as possible. Think about who’s not typically represented in a specific scenario, and find ways to involve them. So, for example, if policy review is usually only handled at the senior management level, you might consider getting mid-level managers or even junior staff included in the process. If your internal communications brainstorming sessions usually only involve staff from the marketing/comms team, consider inviting people from other teams such as HR, accounting or operations.

Author: Sheona McGraw