Diversity & Inclusion

Why it matters in your organisation

Do you have diversity and inclusivity policies in place in your organisation?

 If not, why not?

Is it because you think that it isn’t important? Or is it because you are so clear that diversity and inclusion are important, that you don’t think you need to outline it in a separate document?

Spoiler, both of these reasons are precisely why you NEED to have specific policies in place.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies make clear the position of any organisation on the minimum standards required. In short, they draw a line in the sand on what behaviours are expected — and what will not be tolerated. They clarify the expectations for the working environment to be safe and welcoming for everyone, but also enable you to take immediate and decisive action when there’s evidence that this is not occurring.

While important on its own, this is just the starting point for any organisations expression of tolerance. There is so much more to D&I than just stating of boundaries or “bare-level” standards.

Defining your organisation’s D&I is about striving for equity. It’s not about ticking a race card or about making sure there are enough women (any woman) at the table. It’s not so you can say you have included the token minority.

What it is about is reducing inequalities, having good D&I practices in place to support those policies goes further again by reducing inequities.

When you have practices in place that address diversity and inclusion on a daily basis, you also increase accessibility and when places are accessible, the feeling of belonging also increases. All of these factors make for increased wellbeing.

So where do you start?

Get professional help.

To make sure you get things right from the start, you need someone who has expertise in this. Language matters and it is not as simple as making a statement about being inclusive. You need to understand the language you are using so you can put it into practice.

Demonstrate cultural competency.

It is not enough to throw a few words into the mix, you need to understand the significance behind them (I’m not talking specifically about race here either!).

Don’t be colour blind.

Acknowledge race and all that goes with it. It’s a lot to unpack but it is crucial that you understand that racial identity is more than the colour of someone’s skin. It is perception, thoughts, and experience. It is history, heritage, and whakapapa.

At a bare minimum in Aotearoa, you need to acknowledge the history behind te Tiriti o Waitangi and you must commit to upholding the principles of the Treaty. That means that you must do more than learn some te reo Māori and chuck a karakia into your meetings, you really need to learn about te ao Māori and all that goes with it. Understanding tikanga and kawa are critical steps to this.

Te reo me ona tikanga.

Be gender-affirming.

Normalise using pronouns. Never assume gender identity and be proactive in providing safe spaces for all people in your organisation. This includes having an accessible unisex toilet and supporting the right of any person to use the facility that matches their gender identity.

Dress codes should be gender neutral, and rules about hair and makeup, jewellery or clothing should be applied consistently and equally to all employees.

Be public about your support of transgender or non-binary people. Have clear non-discrimination policies in place and be specific about the steps you take to provide support to your people. Once again, get professional guidance in developing these policies. It is ok to say you don’t know what to do and its important to recognise that you may have your own biases, but you need to challenge these and gaining support from someone qualified will assist you in doing so correctly, without discriminating unintentionally. 

Address accessibility. 

Know that disability access is more than putting in a ramp or providing wheelchair access to a bathroom. Accessibility is considering language needs, visual impairment, hearing support, access and inclusion of support people. It is tailoring the support to the needs of the person.

If you have one bathroom with disabled access and that bathroom is also the sole unisex bathroom AND the only one in the workplace with a shower, yet you have multiple people that workout and choose to use that bathroom during a day, then you do not have adequate accessibility for your people and are actually continuing to marginalise the minority. This cannot be a tickbox exercise. Which leads to my next point. 

Learn about intersectionality.

Recognise that people don’t fit into one tidy category and that your workplace policies may apply to someone in multiple ways. When you understand this, you can tailor your support to the needs of the individual without further marginalisation.

Diversity and inclusion is not about putting in a one-size fits all solution. It is a series of considered practices to ensure all people are included from the outset, not that they will then have to fit in to the conformities that you have specified.

This isn’t about building a culture of “best fit”, it is about defining your brand and values (and mission and purpose) and ensuring that everyone within your organisation understands what those are and strives to uphold them.

“Fit” is problematic as it can exclude. But defining your brand and values creates a culture. When you have clearly defined policies about what is important to you and your organisation and when you actively demonstrate how they align to your everyday (practice what you preach!), you create a place where every individual can contribute their full potential in their own unique and meaningful way AND feel safe and secure in doing so.

It’s being a bloody good human being.



This article was first published on Medium.com