Wednesday, 2 November 2016

When diversity does not mean inclusion

Do Trump supporters include those male white middle-class who feel their resource is being taken away unfairly?

There have been critiques that the benefits received by underrepresented people should not come at the cost of the others. In the graphic, this means that the boxes on which the tall person stood should not be removed and given to the shorter, technically taking away the resource and reducing her status, and hence, potentially causing resentment. In fact, this is backed up by research. In a study where half of the job seekers were informed about the company’s diversity policies and the other half not, white candidates expressed concerns about being treated unfairly in the former condition. In comparison with those who were not informed about the company’s pro-diversity policies, they also made a poorer impression during the interview and endured more stress, as shown by their cardiovascular responses. This suggests that diversity messages can be very sensitive for high status individuals because it triggers identity threats.

At this point, we need to emphasize an important criteria for diversity management, which is inclusion. Organizations should find ways to make all employees feel included and engaged, unless they want to face the burden of “reverse discrimination”, the polarization at work place, the reduced morale and bitterness among those who perceive themselves as being excluded or even victims of the policies. PR “window dressing” diversity programs will not bring in the expected benefit and can be counterproductive for the workplace morale. That is to say, effective diversity management goes hand in hand with significant changes in the organizational philosophy and vision with regard to the role of diversity. This is the ultimate test of an organization’s commitment. It requires the (re)construction of a comprehensive framework for leadership and management, one that can systematically bring down the deep-seated institutional barriers and drive the changes from inside.

On that note, the latest version of our graphic captures nicely this switch of perspective. The existence of the fence creates categories such as “the marginalized” and “the privileged”. It represents the inherent discrimination that is deeply-embedded in the institutional structure and the mindset of the people such as subconscious bias, subtle and micro prejudices, or privileges that have long been taken for granted. Giving support (the boxes) is not the ultimate solution but dismantling the fence which is the root of the problem. When the fence is down, each individual can stand on his own, supporting cost is no more needed, and the view as well as the fun (read. benefit) are much greater.

In another word, true diversity and inclusion effort is about identifying the root causes instead of fixing the symptoms, changing the structure and mindset instead of fixing the people. It is a philosophy of management, and hence, it may requires leaders and decision-makers to constantly challenge their own views and organizations to rethink the whole system.

(This is an excerpt from a textbook on Intercultural Communication I'm writing, which will be published by Amsterdam University Press next year)

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