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First, a bit of background. Back in 1948, President Truman desegregated the US armed forces. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. In the 70s, the UK Government passed the Sex Discrimination Act and established the Equal Opportunities Commission followed by the Commission for Racial Equality a year later in 1976. The Disability Rights Commission was established in 1999 before, in 2007, all three were merged into the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The narrative is clear. Society has been progressively rejecting discrimination – whether on the grounds of gender, race, disability or sexual orientation. Or, indeed, on any other grounds.
Which is why we have seen serious – if insufficient – efforts being made to address the underrepresentation of all minority groups at all levels of employment. But, as expressed in a Deloitte University Press report written by Anesa “Nes” Diaz-Uda, Carmen Medina & Beth Schill, “up to now, diversity initiatives have focused primarily on fairness for legally protected populations”.
And the risk is that, whilst desirable in terms of social equity, that kind of focus can lead to a quota mentality. To put it another way, it can lead to an assumption that there is an end in sight, a clear goal to be achieved. Fulfil your quota requirements and the job is done.
But to realise the real benefits of diversity in the workplace, it has to be seen as an ongoing process, not a tick-box exercise. And we are starting to see that in the growing adoption of organisational policies that add the word ‘inclusion’ to the word ‘diversity’.
If people don’t feel included – if they feel they have to conform to some already established, and possibly irrelevant, cultural template – then they are likely to feel reluctant to contribute the ideas and insights they might have and that might be precisely what the organisation needs.