Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a main topic in socio-economic stages (Davos, professional conferences etc.) and a major strategic focus for most organizations at the moment partly because of all regulations insisting on certain representations with resulting penalties (enforced and non-enforced). Current basic enquiries and preliminary studies tend to indicate that millennials favor organizations with a focus and deliberate strategy to make diversity and inclusion a mainstream advantage. Consequently, organizations and consultants are running with this basic enquiry outcome since millennials are the future of workforce.
As central as this current social dilemma is, its global concept and applicability is still fragmented(?). Every society or culture or nationality (as in geographical entity) can identify some form of divisions, marginalizations and/or under-represented groups. Similarly, most nations, cultures or societies have instituted some form of national/legal framework to balance certain inequities and inequalities yet, the concept of D&I means very different things at different levels, and at different world stages. Multinationals and global organizations may find themselves in a quagmire of policies and frameworks to address this elusive but yet real strategic and performance variable.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) describes D&I as encompassing “activities that create opportunities leveraging the unique backgrounds and characteristics of all employees to contribute to organizational success”. This definition on its own is simple, straightforward and to a great extent understandable. Further, it then scratches the surface of this amorphous term by stating that “Diversity results from inclusion and can be described in terms of different layers and dimensions”. Indeed, the more I tried to understand what exactly it means and how organizations can understand it clearly, craft a strategy that is truly inclusive, the more I realized that further epistemological interactions and conversations need to happen and take it from where we are to a more pragmatic level.
While the cautious suggestions often given to organizations by well meaning consultants is to tailor their strategy to suit the local culture. The problem is not the tailoring or the adapting of universal framework; the problem is what actually constitutes diversity for the different nations, cultures or societies? Diversity is defined as “Differences in peoples characteristics (such as socioeconomic status, beliefs, personality, thought-processes, work-style, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, education, job function etc.)” (SHRM LS, 2019). This simple definition on its own makes it absolutely impossible to point to a truly diversed organization. Some variables appear global in nomenclature such as sex/gender (which on its own is hydra of many heads at the moment). Most people are still confused by the difference in both…sex is male & female while gender is masculine or feminine or non-identified … definitely an area which is still developing and evolving to be quite definitive at this time.
In certain societies diversity takes a narrower understanding, interpretation and application comprising mostly of race, gender and sex but that is not truly the full picture of diversity and inclusion. I come from a part of the world where race is not a problem, gender (as in male or female) could be but there are other dynamics that play in those societies that have not made their way into the scholarly and practitioners definition of diversity namely ethnicity or tribe. Language is still dancing at the periphery of diversity. Should organizations employ people who speak a different language even if the operational language is completely different? Can the refusal to employing such a person although qualified not be discriminatory?
To measure how inclusive and how diverse an organization is or the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion strategy — what will that measure be measuring? The balance of races? The balance of gender? The balance of various cognitive level spectrum? The balance of members of different religions? The balance of different sexes and associated orientations? The balance of different socio-economic groups represented? Preliminary conversations tend to indicate “open and welcoming culture” as a sign of a truly diverse environment… what is open, the dominant culture or the emerging culture?
Cultures are metamophosizingglobally, barriers are coming down, diversity and inclusion is critical more than anytime in human history. No doubt about that. We need to avoid rhetorics and a populist approach. It appears we are still at the periphery of moving the (D&I) conversations from critical tradition and as most post-modernistic evolutions have done, the artificial constructions of signs which most “often are deemed more real than the signs themselves” (Littlejohn& Foss, 2011) seem to be the current situation. Diversity and inclusion is still constantly “changing and fleeting construction”. I doubt that we can reach absolutes but more conversations need to happen to help organizations get it right.