In recent weeks I together with some other colleagues have been asked to think about and consider what diversity and inclusion means to us in the workplace. This has been an interesting exercise to me so I thought it is worth sharing.
So to lay the context, what do we mean when we say diversity? Think about this. Are you a working mother? Do you belong to a minority race or religion? Do you look different to most other people, or not really but do not share the same values? Do you have a different sexual orientation? Do you speak with an accent? Do you have a physical handicap, or do not think like how others do? I believe most people would fall into one of these categories or another, or maybe even multiple, and that brings about diversity to the workplace.
As for inclusion, well that is the interesting one. In a general context inclusion means that regardless of how you are different from others, you deserve the right to feel included and not be isolated in any way. As a result inclusion can mean different things to different people because people can be, or feel like they have been, isolated in different ways.
Now back to me. What does diversity and inclusion mean to me personally? To help me think about that I have to first think about who I am, what makes me different and then think about the various situations at work that have made me feel uncomfortable, or vulnerable, or stressed in the past . If I am to define myself in that context, I see myself as a woman of Malaysian and Chinese background and values who works in a large multinational oil and gas organisation. I am also a daughter, a mother and a wife to a Korean man (with Korean values) and pride myself in those roles more than and above anything else. Throughout my working life I have been referred to as the wrong name and sometimes even the wrong person and there were times when I was automatically assumed as the note taker in meetings. In more recent times I have felt time pressure at and outside of work given my part-time arrangement and have to leave the office by a certain time to go pick up my kids.
Now don’t get me wrong, in the overall scheme of things, I realise that I have been fortunate because the companies and people I work and have worked for are diverse in nature and have been generally inclusive and accepting of me and my work and if I was to bring some of these issues to their attention, I have no doubt that we would work towards resolving them. However there were still times and situations where I felt uncomfortable or pressured given my who I am and my alternative working arrangements. To me, being inclusive is a simple concept – it means respect and understanding; that means respecting your colleagues and their ideas and their work-life preferences regardless of their looks, background and values. Nevertheless it is not about entitlement. For me it does not mean that I have to be ranked, promoted or offered the exact same opportunities as my full-time colleagues, but it is simply for others to understand and respect that I am now a mother to two young children but I can still contribute meaningfully to the organisation, just not in the conventional ways.
Simple concept, but not so simple to execute, because making people “exclusive” is not usually done consciously. People are not intentionally malicious or discriminatory; however people, myself included, are naturally used to their own thinking, their own routine, their own ideas, their own biases and prejudices and do not often realise the impact of their actions on others. Having gone through this thinking process, I identified situations where I would have preferred to have been treated differently, but it also helped me identify situations where I should have treated others differently. It has to be a two-way conversation – for the giving end to acknowledge and accept that the other person is different, and for the receiving end to inform the other of their own preferences and boundaries.
Diversity and inclusivity in the workplace (and in society) is a complex issue, it would take a huge amount of consciousness and proactivity over layers of organisations (starting from the top) and potentially over years and decades before it will get to a stage where it should be, but realising that there is an issue is the first step to realising that it needs to be fixed. And as cheesy as this is going to sound, that realisation will have to start with each one of us.
Finally I will leave you with this video for your own thoughts (with credit to Accenture who has artistically and cleverly created this).