When Diversity Framework Is Not Enough
I've been delivering diversity and inclusion training to several organisations, and it has become apparent to me that some organisations are unable to move forward because they are trapped in the diversity framework. I've had several conversation in which the term 'diversity' was applied by default without a thorough exploration of its meaning and implementation in the workplace. Indeed, I've had several discussion about the limitation of the term 'diversity' that can have a real impact in the way organisations and workforce include it as part of their daily operations and workplace environment.
'Diversity' is a term that often refers to the 'others', that is, any groups that do not fit with the social construct of the 'perfect citizen'. In Western context, this refers to Anglo (or White), heterosexual, middle-upper class, tertiary educated, male without physical, intellectual, and cognitive disabilities. Groups that fall outside of this 'ideal', such as women, people of colour, LGBTIQ, people with disability and so on, are often grouped together as part of 'diversity'. As such, when talking about diversity, it is often marginalised groups who are expected to inform the organisations on how to create a diverse workforce. Similarly, organisations tend to view diversity as a box ticking exercise by trying to hire as many 'diverse' individuals as possible to demonstrate Diversity and Inclusion while still maintaining the status quo. That is, the dominant power ideologies based on race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status (or class), ability and many more often remain unchallenged. Additionally, many organisations are yet to develop understanding about intersectionality and implementing an intersectional framework as part of their strategies.
It is very rare to work with organisations that are willing to spend time and resources to truly unpack the term 'diversity' and what it meant to people who are not conventionally seen as part of the 'diverse' groups. It requires people who hold the power - socially, politically, and ideologically - the truly examine what diversity means to them, and how they can embrace diversity as part of their ethos. This requires difficult conversation around privilege and unconscious biases, and how these have shaped people's understanding of diversity. It is almost counter productive to ask marginalised groups about discrimination, as we encounter it everyday through both macro and micro aggression. Instead, to truly embrace inclusion and belonging, the conversation should focused on how power ideologies have shaped organisation's system, ethos, and culture, and what need to be changed to break the cycle of oppression and marginalisation through systemic and cultural change.
Indeed, diversity is the responsibility of all, and to be diverse requires all of us to explore the interplay between power, privilege, and marginalisation. It is an on-going conversation that requires constant reflection. For organisations to thrive, time and resources must be allocated to enable these conversation to exist, and this requires courage, humility (and vulnerability), and commitment from all aspects of the organisations, including the leadership team and the board. In this globalised and inter-connected world, the only way forward is for us to reflect on how we can start to unpack power ideologies that contribute to the construction of the Diversity Framework, to work collaboratively to ensure that everyone feels that they belong to a productive, nurturing, and forward thinking organisations that celebrate and embrace the multifaceted characteristics of the human race.