Diversity & Inclusion...What Does It Mean Practically?

By Shelly Evans

Diversity is a word being tossed around a lot lately, and not without reason.

The modern civil rights movement has extended to include not only those of different racial and cultural backgrounds, but those in the LGBTQIA++ Community, disabled community, and of course, Women #MeToo. 

How well does this translate to the corporate world?

Not well.

In the corporate world, for all intents and purposes despite their sweeping attendance at mandated D & I conferences, there is very little understanding of what diversity and inclusion mean. Most events being held for the purpose of fulfilling the governmental requirement of opportunity, while missing the point of actually including marginalized groups. This is seen primarily in the gatekeeping of attendance at so many self-proclaimed “conferences on inclusion”, where the vast majority of attendees are the exact privileged demographics already seated at the table. Not to say that there aren't usually a few tokenized people of color, and queer folks peppered in for appearance of ethical fidelity - but what does it really mean to be inclusive?

One topic discussed in a conference recently attended covered the notion of recruitment and the fact that many (if not all) recruitment processes - official and unofficial, cater to white, male, and mostly able-bodied applicants. Events like bar crawls, and booths at alma-maters only serve to put corporate entities in front of their existing demographic. Thus, it's not really that schools are having a hard time recruiting students of color, and women, but that they are not placing any specific effort toward including those demographics. Inclusivity and equity in hiring and recruiting looks like integrated and truly equitable searches putting conscious effort into seeking out disabled, women, and people of color during hiring events. Going to schools that are densely populated with women, people of color, as well as disabled, and Queer applicants, while hosting events that hold and create space for marginalized folks is a phenomenal starting place. 

Informal recruitment processes like meetups in bars, and pub crawls catering to male, white, and able-bodied audiences could be translated into more inclusive spaces like potlucks, or group dinners at inclusive restaurants (vegan, gluten-free, ethnic, located in ethnic communities, etc.)

Regarding retention - I think it's important not only to make sure that not only are students in marginalized demographics receive special attention in the hiring process, but also in the process of retention, and upward mobility. 

Myself, and too many other women, people of color, and queer people can attest to the experience of being skipped over in the hiring process, passed over for a promotion, or even account for an experience being robbed of acknowledgment for contributions due to both conscious and unconscious bias on race, gender, or physical presentation. Opportunities for upward mobility should be offered with marginalized applicants being strongly considered - and first - above applicants that would otherwise be automatically considered because of privileged associations. 

Lastly, it's deeply important that there is adequate protection against retaliatory action on whistle-blowers, and that those brave enough to address injustice receive adequate representation. Whether or not unionization is involved, many marginalized employees - mainly women and people of color, have been retaliated against financially, by spontaneous discharge, and being subjected to social backlash at work by corporations in denial of their ill-treatment and unwilling to defend inclusive ethics under fire. The most practical effort should be put forth in making sure there are inclusivity officers of marginalized identities working in or closely with Human Resources within each organization to ensure that there is a peer-audience for marginalized employees to voice concerns. 

Naturally, there are plenty of adjustments that desperately need to be made in the world of corporate regarding equality, but the journey begins with a step. Transformation of workplaces into inclusive and educated spaces begins with these very conversations surrounding making work a more inclusive, and safe place for privileged, and marginalized employees. 

Have you shared the experience of workplace discrimination? Do you have ideas on how to make corporate workplaces more safe for marginalized employees? Tell us below in the comments, we'll be delighted you joined the conversation.