As we develop into an increasingly heterogeneous society, concerns regarding diversity and inclusion are gradually being brought to light. In doing so, they progress from being the picturesque cover of a brand-image to something that is essential for an organization’s/ company’s growth. As a high school student part of the Associate National Lead program, I am working towards building and hosting my own conference. In doing so, incorporating diversity and inclusion is imperative. And here’s why:
Diversity - What Makes it Worthwhile to Receive So Much Spotlight?
First, diversity is a business imperative as it is needed by companies to stay competitive. This is because it prevents organizations from becoming too insular with its increasing heterogenous customer base. A key to an organization’s success is for the employees to reflect the customers they serve. Thus, when internal inclusion and diversity are strong, employees feel values and will serve the customers better as their productivity and loyalty towards the organization is increased.
Secondly, diversity is a moral imperative because of personal experiences and values. Often, a CEO’s commitment to diversity arises from their personal values and/or experiences of being an outsider. In contemporary society, we, as humans, are all subject to biases, judgements, stereotypes and segregation regardless of our backgrounds, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc. Although some experience these at a greater level, it is important to realize that everyone at some point in their lives would have been subject to feelings of exclusion. Thus, when the topics of diversity and inclusion become personal, the commitment towards them increases. For example, as the Chair of my conference planning team, I make sure to be directly involved in diversity and inclusion as I believe people should have the opportunity for growth without being set back from their characteristic features. As a female, I have experienced gender biases and am fully aware of the potential lost in suppressing someone - and in turn their ideas - based on mere appearances.
Conversely, as Paul Block states, diversity is also essential in creating dissent which is needed for the deep inquiry and breakthroughs. If the same demographic is being hired repeatedly, organizations can find themselves to be in a deadlock with the same kind of ideas, leaving less room for creativity and innovation, both of which are imperative for success. Thus, when recruiting regional leads to form my team to plan the conference, I reached out to a wide range of people with different backgrounds and talents. I judged people based on their ability rather than their appearance. This helps me to broaden the scope of my team as diversity broadens the spectrum of ideas as multiple, varying perspectives are brought to the table. Additionally, my team not only ensures internal diversity but also external. When planning the conference, we make sure to make it reflective of the entire demographic ― in our case, high school students ― rather than targeting it to people with specific interests. For example, the topics of our workshops (networking, career exploration, and emotional intelligence) all build skills that are essential for all high school students, regardless of who they are or where they come from.
Persistent Institutional Barriers
When discussing the matters of diversity and inclusion, it is important to consider and analyze existing institutional barriers to understand the obstacles which mitigate the progress of diversity and inclusion within an organization. For example, one of the major persistent institutional barriers is for women's advancement within an institution that allows only a small percent of them to rise through the ranks.
Ken Frazier of Merck: “I think that the progress of women in the last two decades has been so limited, so slow, so inadequate, that it would defy even the most skeptical people from 20 years ago.”
One of the major obstacles for women is their exclusion from networks and conversations that open doors to further development and promotion ― in other words, because of “social cliquishness.”
It is often the subtle, unintended and unconscious discrimination that leads to such exclusion. Even leaders passionate about building inclusive environments can unintentionally allow unconscious biases to shape their behavior. This is why it is becoming increasingly significant to have those important conversations regarding diversity and inclusion that can bring these underlying biases to light and consciousness. Keeping this in mind, our conference will have a workshop regarding networking and how to build meaningful relationships with others through conversation. We believe that this is an important skill to have as people, that otherwise will remain independent, can have cohesive conversations regarding such important topics. Moreover, for women who are excluded from social circles within an office setting, it becomes increasingly important to develop networking skills so they open those doors of opportunity and growth.
What is an Inclusive Culture?
An inclusive culture is one when employees can contribute to the company as their authentic selves while the organization respects and leverages their talents and gives them a sense of connectedness. This can be done through aligning personal objectives with that of the company’s through mutual respect. This is why I ensure each member within my conference planning team feels valued, heard and that the conference reflects part of their ideals and values as well. In an inclusive workplace, heterogeneous teams can be made. Although it may take more time to make decisions than homogeneous teams because of the varying ideas, these decisions will be better informed. This is what determines the success or failure of a team.
Lead by Example
Overall, as we advance forward as a society, it is important to bring matters of diversity and inclusion to the forefront. And, the best way to do this is to lead by example - be the change you want to see. Set an example within our institution by valuing and spending effort for diversity within your team. Be the catalyst of a chain reaction that spreads awareness about diversity and inclusion from a dominoes effect.