In the last few years, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives have evolved far past the concept of diversity hires. Organizations are growing more self-aware about the kind of workplace cultures they foster, and the way employees are inadvertently affected by implicit bias. Long histories of workplace discrimination just can’t be erased through a single anti-oppression seminar.
Why is DEI more relevant now than ever? The New World of Work, largely influenced by the covid-19 pandemic, has completely altered the way people and organizations work. The rapid change has caused an unavoidable ripple effect, which must be addressed to ensure that your organization continues to run smoothly. True DEI is a struggle, but we’re making strides to get there. In this blog, I’ve compiled a few DEI tips to keep in mind, especially with the rough last few years and the burgeoning New World of Work keeping us on our toes.
1. Be Mindful of People’s Reservations Around Remote & In-Person Work
DEI, while intended to support people from historically disadvantaged groups such as BIPOC, women, or members of the LGBTQ+ community, is also a reminder to be mindful of people’s individual circumstances, including physical and mental health. Despite covid-19 vaccinations being readily available and social distancing measures being implemented in designated spaces, some people may still wish to work from home. In most cases, working from home is a personal preference, but people may also wish to work from home out of concern for their health or the health of people they regularly interact with (such as elderly or immunocompromised family members).
As a team leader, the risk to your team’s health is something to consider. Everyone has different levels of tolerance to risk, and some people may have undisclosed medical or personal circumstances putting them at higher risk. Does this mean everyone should work from home forever? Not necessarily. For some, the complete opposite may be true; some team members may feel isolated by remote work and wish to return to in-person as soon as they can. How do you reconcile conflicting concerns over mental and physical health?
As we slowly progress back to pre-pandemic work styles, we should be considerate of others’ comfort levels in remote and in-person workspaces. Communicate, and let your team know that their concerns are not being dismissed or disregarded. When it comes to an issue as serious as people’s health, whether it be mental or physical, communication is key to come to a solution that reasonably suits most people. Not everyone can always be satisfied in these regards, but open communication will help your team feel less helpless in these types of situations.
2. Be Conscious of Your Subconscious Bias
Being conscious of your subconscious biases towards both yourself and others is always a good rule of thumb, but it’s become much more relevant in recent years. As the general consciousness becomes more and more aware of implicit bias, these biases are being brought further into the public’s attention.
Everyone has subconscious biases—it’s natural. We pick up things we see around us—in the news, in books, and in movies. Know that you probably do have subconscious biases, which probably don’t reflect your moral values at all. To deconstruct these deep-seated biases, we have to constantly examine and re-examine our behaviours so that we can keep in pace with the developments of society—in all regards, not only social.
Take a look at this Harvard Business Review article examining the subconscious biases towards women in the workplace. While most people don’t consciously believe women to be less competent than men, “cattiness” or “bossiness” is a common characteristic ascribed to women in the workplace. These traits never translate to men of course, yet the catty, bossy woman has been a common trope in TV media for decades. How do we get past this way of thinking? Question yourself, and catch your own biases. The more aware you are of where your biases come from, the easier it is to accept their mythical nature.
3. Be Aware of Ageism and Relearning
The method of discrimination most commonly overlooked these days is ageism. In the context of the New World of Work, organizations are planning for the future as it comes hurtling towards us at an increasingly rapid pace. A November 2021 report from McKinsey shows consistent workplace discrimination against people aged 45 and older. According to the report, there exists the general perception that older workers are less adaptable and less tech-savvy, making them less desirable to employers. Whether you believe this stereotype to be generally true or not, it should not reflect your openness to people of different ages, because 1) it’s discriminatory, and 2) you might be missing out on great talent. Stay open-minded about older workers, and keep in mind that generalizations never apply to entire populations.
As change leaders, the habit of unlearning and relearning should be standard practice. Check out this blog for more information on the importance of relearning. To make it short, relearning is necessary at any age, especially in the New World of Work. Make it a point, both for yourself and for your team, to support learning and relearning initiatives. If you and your team are open to the idea of relearning, age plays no role.
4. Planning for a Sustainable DEI Future
As previously mentioned at the beginning of the blog, DEI has to move beyond the age-old diversity hires. This article by Human Resources Director Canada sees a DEI future that goes beyond diversity in numbers, paying closer attention to the equity and inclusion parts of DEI. What they call a “holistic” approach to DEI may very well be what to expect from workplace cultures of the future. Meeting the diversity quota just isn’t enough anymore, and company cultures that don’t pay attention to the individual equity and inclusion of its employees may end up losing out on talent. A workplace culture doesn’t have to be hostile and explicitly exclusionary to turn people away nowadays. Going the extra mile to create a more positive and forward-thinking environment can go a long way.
Communications and Community Coordinator