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Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: The Power of DEI in Positively Transforming Workplaces

I was inspired by the recent article "Why Is DEI Considered 'Racist' by Some Wealthy White Men?" It's a worrying trend I've recently observed, and I've been grappling with how to share my thoughts cohesively. Here goes….

We have abundant rich data showing how diverse teams are a smart commercial decision. With benefits like increasing profits, reducing risks, and enhancing the bottom line for everyone, it seems strange that any hostility should exist towards attracting and retaining diverse talent.

Creating programs capable of attracting and identifying, along with providing the necessary resources to up skill, sponsor, and nurture, should be tailored to be most effective. I also find it difficult to see why people would contest this.

Understanding that, depending on your lived experiences and circumstances, your paths will differ from others is essential. For some, the difference will be slight, but for others, it will be significant. This variance creates a need for tailored programs.

I believe this is where the issue really begins.

How do we create these programs to be most effective and inclusive so we can discover and nurture talent from all sectors, not just those in our immediate network?

We also need to understand how humans operate and make decisions, and where our biases come into play. Biases are a part of human nature.

Anyone who has read or studied Behavioural Economics at even the most basic level will know that, sadly, our thinking systems are flawed, and most of the time, we aren’t even aware of it.

Therefore, designing processes, frameworks, and systems that help us overcome these flaws in our thinking is crucial to creating more effective outcomes.

Some biases we all need to overcome:

1. Confirmation Bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

2. Status Quo Bias: A preference for the existing state of affairs. Any change from the baseline is perceived as a loss.

3. Ingroup Bias (or Ingroup Favouritism): The tendency to give preferential treatment to others perceived as members of one's own group.

4. Stereotyping: Involves fixed generalisations about a specific group, often leading to oversimplified perceptions.

5. Implicit Bias (or Unconscious Bias): Attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.

Understanding and addressing these biases is crucial in creating and maintaining effective DEI initiatives. They often require targeted educational programs, open dialogues, and systemic policy changes to mitigate their effects.

Programs that are mere box-ticking exercises will fail because they lack intentional design and do not incorporate key elements for successful change. Let's be honest, this is true for any program across any subject matter.

But it doesn’t have to be complex to be effective.

Case study: 

The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology once required applicants to have A-level Physics. They recognised that this excluded a swathe of talented potential engineers who were female. Why? Because, for whatever reason, in the UK now, it’s not common for girls to be encouraged to take Physics. 

Their workaround? Add an additional physics module into their curriculum to close the knowledge gap for entrants who hadn’t studied A-level Physics. This simple change significantly moved the needle and opened up access for all who had not taken Physics at A level - in 2020, 40% of all entrants into their engineering program were female.

Finally, let’s not dismiss the fact that some company owners are concerned that if they invest in training and development programs, they might see that investment benefiting another company when individuals leave. A valid concern, yet I always think of the quote,

"What happens if I train my staff and they leave? - Well, what happens if you don't train your staff and they stay?"

Moreover, having a good reputation as an inclusive organisation where everyone can thrive will, over the long term, mean that when you have new openings, you'll find you receive more applications from people with exceptional talent and experience, as well as a higher level of staff retention.

I welcome your thoughts and experiences on this topic. I know the above is far from exhaustive. Please feel free to share your insights and perspectives in the comments below.

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