What does "buying in" to inclusion at work really mean?

Victoria Lewis




Simply agreeing that women make strong leaders, that gender diverse teams produce stronger results and make better decisions – in business, science, politics, education and beyond – or that gender equality is morally right is not enough. For change to occur, we need an army of men and women committed to confronting sexism where it lives. In our conversations around the coffee machine at work, around the dinner table at home or at the pub on a Friday night.

I spend a great deal of my professional and personal life discussing diversity. Don't let that word turn you off! It's just a fancy way of saying "people are different". Most of my professional life is spent facilitating training sessions - most of the time to people who "get this stuff". They see the commercial imperative of having diverse teams, full of different opinions and approaches and they know morally and ethically it makes sense. They also recognise that diversity isn't enough - the critical element is the extent to which people feel included at work. To feel valued and recognised for who they are and what they bring. No one intends to make people feel excluded but we all know this happens in practice - positive intent often does not translate into positive impact. I think people readily accept that unconscious bias exists - the problem is that they don't think they have it! But we all do, it is human and unavoidable.

But the challenge is how to truly obtain the buy in of colleagues, especially senior and successful ones, who have passed through the ranks and been rewarded accordingly by their bosses. Does the messaging that people have biases (albeit unintentional) mean they will disengage the very audience they are trying to connect with. My view is that the language doesn't help us - "bias" is a loaded word that tends to incite blame and defensive reactions - an attack on the merit of the successful few. If we can think of this as preferential treatment instead it might help start the conversation and keep going. Our unconscious thought processes which leads us to feel comfortable with some people, to gravitate towards them and indeed to seek them out means that we end up having closer connections with them. If we are a leader then this bias results in an unlevel playing field where some people are treated very well and others less well.

This is not about good or bad - but if we are to change the status quo we need to talk about it more and yes that means talking about it when it can feel uncomfortable. We need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and to make these conversations normal.

If you would like to hear more about this approach, we are always happy to talk about this stuff or can arrange a taster session for your team. To find out more, please contact enquiries@ byrnedean.com