Checking a diversity box is a definition, not the defined
Updated: Apr 6
Now, more than ever before, companies and organizations need a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce, guided by leaders who can draw out their people’s fullest potential. To achieve this,organizations must nurture team members that reflect the communities in which their people live. So, as we work toward more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces, it is fundamental that we do not fall into the disaster that many organizations have, of checking boxes. Diversity is more than simply checking boxes to increase representation of the underrepresented.Increasing diversity is only the first step. By implementing superficial diversity policies and actions, organizations delay substantive processes for truly effective change.
When we showcase small changes made — we give our internal audience a pass, that their work toward a more inclusive workplace is complete, and we create a facade for our external audiences that progressive policies have already been implemented.
However, this is a far from progressive practice, and while there may in fact be surface-level improvements to issues of marginalization, there is concurrently a risk of tokenism. That is, we risk making small and performative adjustments that lack in veritable effort to reduce inequality. If organizations are not careful, we will find ourselves in the practice of building diverse teams to appear socially conscious and leave minorities groups wondering if they have their job for their talent and skills or if they’ve just checked a diversity box.
So how do we start to dismantle the systemic inequality rather than skirting around the periphery? First, we can start by embracing the complexity of diversity. We must start to work to truly learn about the differences of others and how those unique perspectives and lived experiences shape the way they work, learn, manage people and collaborate with teams. We need to deeply work to understand that these complexities are not as simple as a combination of generalizations.
Next, we must look to a process that works for minorities, not just the company. This starts with job entry accessibility for underrepresented groups. We can remove barriers to entry by changing our applications to be non-gendered and looking toward candidate’s assets, capabilities, and determination rather than tenure and university names. We can conduct “blind interviews” where any information that may be viewed through bias is removed during the resume review process. We can celebrate varied learning and communication styles by providing opportunities for employees to showcase them. Finally - but never lastly - we can encourage a sense of belonging by looking to how minorities groups problem solve and make decisions, then mainstream those practices within the company.
Diversity challenges norms. But we must understand that the “challenge” is exactly what is necessary for us to thrive not only as a company, but as complex individuals.
Diversity in approaches to decision-making is often seen as disruptive and those who are working toward solutions differently are seen as, “rebels” for stepping outside prescribed methods for invoking change. But these “disruptors” provide values and practices that are challenging because they come with a different perspective.
As the late Toni Morrison said, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.