As a qualitative researcher I solve problems by understanding how an individual or a company brings that problem to life. Let me give you an example.
A good friend of mine, Daniel, works for a large HR company. At the start of this year his company was launching a new initiative focussed on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Daniel is a very likeable family guy, I’ve never seen him in a work environment but I’m sure he’s very capable at his job. He’s got a good sense of humour, a team player…he’s not the guy that will make the sexist or racist comment but he’s the guy that may (shyly) laugh along. Daniel reached out to me because he had a problem. As part of the D&I launch his company had asked all employees to complete the following sentence:
“I’m committed to inclusion because………..”
Daniels problem was he didn’t have an answer. Why? Because he wasn’t ‘committed to inclusion’, he simply was included. Through no fault of his own, he is the default square peg in the square hole. I’ve already told you that Daniel has a good sense of humour, so not only did he want me to give him the ending of the sentence, he also wanted it to be funny! I suggested “I’m committed to inclusion because…
as a straight white able bodied guy, I know I don’t have all the answers!
In my experience a lot of organisations take Daniels approach to D&I initiatives – tell me the answer (without understanding the problem). And whilst I am more than capable of doing that, the answer I give you won’t change anything unless it resinates with you, the individual or company. Issues relating to a lack of diversity are simply the symptoms. The problem will always be rooted in the organisational culture.
Not surprisingly Daniel didn’t like my first answer enough to submit it as part of the pre workshop launch of his companies inclusion initiative, although he thought I ticked the funny request. So then I presented him with the business case for inclusion. I explained to Daniel that according to CNN Money, in the U.S. the millennial and Gen Z generations are the most diverse in history: only 56% of the 87 million millennials in the U.S. are white, as compared to 72% of the 76 million members of the baby boomer generation. The U.S. population, and therefore the nation’s workforce, is becoming increasingly diverse.
In the 40 years between 1980 and 2020, the white working-age population will have declined from 83% of the nation’s total to 63% while the number of minority workers will have doubled. This means that organisations cannot simply fill up their workforce with ‘Daniels’ forever. The next generation of employees are not as complacent about the subject of D&I. They’re not looking for the smart answer that Daniel wanted to find, they want the authentic answer. According to a survey done by Glassdoor, a diverse workplace is one of the main factors potential employees take into account when considering a job. A diverse workplace was of paramount importance to minority job seekers: 72% of women (v. 62% of men), 89% of African Americans, 80% of Asians, and 70% of Latinos ranked workforce diversity as important in their job search. But this isn’t a them and us argument. According to Glassdoor’s research the next generation of Daniels employees and clients also believe a diverse workplace is important when considering where to work. This means that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is central to attracting talented employees, and to setting your company up for success.
So we tried out the following sentence: I’m committed to inclusion because…
it’s no longer a nice to have add on, creating an inclusive organisational culture is a need to have.
For Daniel this made it to the short list. It was an okay answer for him but still not something that resinated with him. Until he experienced difficulties in attracting talent, this scenario was still too abstract for him. He wasn’t living this version of exclusion. So then I went for the personal approach.
I asked if he thought his daughter should have the same experiences and opportunities in life as his son? “of course” he said. “But you do know if they both started work tomorrow doing the same job for the same company, your daughter will end up being paid less”? Daniel was now engaging with the topic on a personal level. He may not have experienced discrimination himself but now the subject was landing closer to home. This was a version of the problem he could at least imagine living through.
A few days later Daniel proudly sent me an image of himself smiling next to a poster that hung in his companies foray. On the poster was a picture of Daniel and the following quote
“I’m committed to inclusion because I believe my daughter should have the same opportunities as my son.”
Daniel couldn’t work through the problem of inclusion because he hadn’t lived that problem. But that switched when he learnt how close to home the problem really was. Truly understanding a lived experience is the only way we can change our experience of work.