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What 12 Years of School Didn’t Teach Me

How Diversity and Inclusion Creates the Leaders of Tomorrow

Let me start by giving you an scenario. There is this car manufacturing plant that despite its heavy funding, never seems to run as efficient to other car manufacturing factories. Even the employees don’t want to work there, and they refuse to point out human-error in the assembly line, often because they are too lazy to make the effort to fix the problem.

In an effort to resolve these problems, the plant’s senior executives go to a competitor’s plant to see what the competition is doing differently. When they got there, they were shocked to see the internal structure of the competitor’s plant. With a fraction of the budget, the competition was creating cars with significantly better quality. Heck, even employees were willing to point out their mistakes and spend the extra time needed to ensure the car’s perfection!

What if I told you the previous ‘hypothetical scenario’ was not so hypothetical after all. The failing car manufacturer was Ford back in between the 1970s-80s, while the competitor was Toyota. What Ford’s executives realized is that they didn’t need huge amounts of funding to ensure the success and quality of their plant, rather what they lacked was a sense of diversity and inclusion among its employees. While Ford’s employees complained about the harsh long hours and inadequate working conditions, Toyota placed an emphasis on ensuring employees were valued, respected and committed to the company’s mission.

In today’s world, an inclusive culture is more important than ever. With globalization and the increasing diversity of our communities, workplaces, and schools, creating an environment where everyone feels included is essential. That’s a great thing, right? Well, it would be if we didn’t have to deal with the pesky problem of prejudice. Unfortunately, it’s still very much alive and kicking, even as society progresses. We’re going to dive headfirst into the issues surrounding diversity and why even some of the world’s top CEOs make it an integral mission to promote inclusivity and acceptance.

What is Inclusion

First its important to ask what inclusion is. An inclusive culture is one where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel valued, respected, and welcomed. It’s a culture that recognizes and embraces differences, and allows individuals to bring their whole selves to the table without fear of discrimination or bias.

People often confuse inclusion with diversity. I believe this quote from Vernā Myers sums it up quite well:

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

However, it is still important to have both. Not only should everyone be welcome to ‘the party’ but they also should feel inclined to help.

Barriers for Inclusion and Diversity The world sucks. We all know that. As much as we seek for a fair just world, there remain institutional barriers, often subconscious, that offer resistance from effectively integrating specific demographics into an organization.

The demographics that experience the most resistance in inclusivity vary depending on the context and the specific institution in question. However, historically marginalized groups such as people of color, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and individuals from low-income backgrounds have faced significant barriers to inclusivity in many institutions.

For example, people of color may face systemic racism and bias in employment, housing, and education. Women also experience signifcant discrimination, with a study from the World Economic Forum citing only 36% of females occupy senior roles. What’s even more tragic is that only 8.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

While there are numerous factors contributing to the presence of these barriers, one of the most significant and widely acknowledged obstacles is the exclusion of individuals from networks and conversations that offer access to opportunities for advancement and professional growth. It is frequently observed that this form of discrimination is unintentional and occurs unconsciously.

Think of a ‘Golf Night’ at a workplace. While on paper, this event seems like it is open to everyone, is it statistically unlikely many women show up to this event as it is catered towards elder male members of a company. However what if the CEO of the company also attends this event. Now, all the individuals at the event (majority of whom are male) get the exclusive opportunity to connect with the CEO for a possible promotion.

It is important to note that these demographic groups are not monolithic and that individuals within each group may experience barriers to inclusivity in different ways. Additionally, individuals may experience intersectional forms of discrimination where multiple aspects of their identity intersect to create unique forms of marginalization. Recognizing and addressing these forms of discrimination is crucial for creating more inclusive and equitable institutions.

So what can we Do?

It’s one thing to recognize the barriers, but real change happens when we seek to over these boundaries and develop effective and executive solutions toward addressing this critical issue.

There are several strategies being employed by the world’s top companies. I have synthesized a few of them below:

  1. Collect data points and reiterate on current strategies: Using metrics, questionnaires, employee engagement surveys, and diversity-and-inclusion indexes can help companies identify areas that need improvement and measure progress.

  2. Accountability: Encouraging managers to incorporate diversity and inclusion goals into their weekly tasks can help to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

  3. Be Human: Offering benefits such as flexible hours, on-site child care, and onboarding support after a leave of absence can help employees balance their personal and professional commitments.

  4. Role Models: Having a diverse group of leaders in top positions signals an organizational commitment to diversity and provides emerging leaders with role models they can identify with.

I believe in turning our discussions about inclusion into actionable steps that create a safe and welcoming environment for all individuals to pursue their dreams. I’m are excited to have the opportunity to meet you all at our upcoming conference and work together to promote inclusivity in our respective workplaces and communities.

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