Addressing the Dissonance of Workplace Diversity and Inclusion


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@amymtomAmy Tom

Hacker Noon Editor, businesswoman, podcaster, and true crime lover.

I’m sure you’ve heard stats like these a million times: 76% of millennials are empowered by organizations that foster an inclusive culture, 65% of senior executives cite the recruitment of diverse employees as a priority, and the list goes on. If this is truly the case, why is tech diversity still such a struggle?

Why is Google’s workforce 3.7% Black? Why is Facebook’s workforce 9% Black & Hispanic? Why are people like George Floyd still being victimized at the hands of racism? There is a confusing cognitive dissonance in the workplace (and in the world) when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

What do we mean by “Diversity and Inclusion”?

Diversity and Inclusion mean different things to different people. According to a study done by Deloitte, Millennials and Gen Xers & Baby Boomers have different definitions of workplace inclusion.

Millennials define workplace inclusion as “a culture of connectedness that facilitates teaming, collaboration, and professional growth, and positively affects major business outcomes“.

On the other hand, older generations believe that it’s “the process through which organizations ensure that individuals of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations are protected, treated fairly, and provided consistent opportunities free from discrimination and prejudice“.

The older generations also believe that workplace inclusion “is a moral and legal issue that is necessary whether it directly benefits the business or not.”

Do you see the difference that is already leading to the cognitive dissonance of tech diversity? Millennials believe in workplace inclusion to facilitate collaboration and growth, while the older generations that workplace inclusion is a process that needs to be done as a moral obligation.

Racism in The Workplace

Racial discrimination in the workplace can show up as hurtful racial “jokes” or racial stereotyping. However, racial discrimination often shows up in “micro-aggression” in the forms of being passed for a promotion, unfair hiring practices, or unfair payment structures.

People say that they value diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In fact, 47% of Millennials say that they look for workplaces where they feel like diversity and inclusion are part of the workplace culture. This is a promising statistic, especially when you consider that Millennials will take up 75% of the workforce by 2025. Additionally, 72% of Baby Boomers are white. In comparison, Millennials are 56% white. Perhaps this explains the difference in the attitude on inclusion.

However, racism and unconscious biases still exist in the workplace today. In Canada, you are 40% more likely to get an interview “with an English-sounding name despite identical education, skills, and experience.” Not only that, as a racialized Canadian, you are paid “81 cents to the dollar compared to other Canadians.”

According to a study by the CRRF in partnership with the Association of Canadian Studies, 75% of Canadians have a positive opinion of immigrants; this means 25% of Canadians have a net negative view of immigrants. If you don’t think that is a lot of people, consider the fact that 25% of the Canadian population equates to 9,397,316 people. The numbers worsen for Aboriginals (69%), Muslims (62%), and Jews (75%).

According to the CRRF Race Relation Survey in 2019, 75% of Canadians said they believe people from all racial backgrounds have an equal chance to succeed in life (again, that’s 9,397,316 people in Canada that don’t believe racialized Canadians have an equal chance to succeed). It also states that 50% of Black Canadians view their race as a limitation to success.

This same study also states that only 44% of Canadians believe that racialized Canadians are treated the same as white Canadians in the workplace. It also states that acts of racial discrimination most commonly occurred in the street (38%), in the workplace (38%), or at school and university (29%).

Even more staggering, 56% of Black Canadians believe they are treated as if they were not as smart as other Canadians. Other racialized groups believe the same – Aboriginals (47%), South Asians (40%), and Chinese people (21%).

A similar American study was conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2019 that stated only 48% of Americans believe that Black Americans are treated fairly in the workplace when compared to white Americans. It also states that 60% of Black Americans reported people acting as if they weren’t smart.

Sexism in The Workplace

Sexism in the workplace can take many forms ranging from unwanted touching (AKA sexual assault) to asking the only woman on the team to get coffee for the meeting when she holds the same position as the men in the room.

Dr. Sarah Kaplan, a distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy, addresses the leadership gap of women vs men. She did a keynote (video blow) where she says that, in Canada, only 4% of CEOs are women and only 19.6% of board seats are held by women. For every 100 men promoted to a managerial position, only 79 females will be promoted to manager.

A similar Mckinsey study surveyed more than Canadian 500,000 employees and found that at the director and vice-president level, men advance 3x more than women did. It also found that of the people surveyed, women were just as likely to aspire for promotions as men were.

In American Fortune 500 companies, there are almost as many male CEOs named “John” as there are women CEOs altogether.

51.1% of the population is female, and yet, only 3.3% of the American male population is named “John”. Additionally, in a study on the STEM field, employers were given the exact same resume, but one was from “Jennifer” and one was from “John”.

Employers rated the submitted resumes based on employability (on a scale of 1-5). This resulted in a 3.75/5 rating for John and a 2.85/5 rating for Jennifer.

There is more data to prove the professional discrimination of women. For example, venture capitalist funding in America is heavily biased. Only 2.3% of total funding goes to all-female founding teams and 10%.4 goes towards mixed-gender founding teams.

However, it should be also mentioned that research shows that women are less likely to advocate for themselves in the workplace when it comes to promotion.

Intersectional Discrimination In The Workplace

I’m just going to leave you with this sentiment from Gender and The Economy: “Visible minority women, especially first-generation immigrants, earn on average $5,000 less than non-visible minority women, and $7,000 less than visible minority men.”

What Is The Solution?

As Dr. Sarah Kaplan says, “we can’t be satisfied with incrementalism”. Something needs to be done.

I’m not an expert and, honestly, I have no idea how to solve this. However, I think the first step is education (so thanks for making it this far!). To continue to a solution, we need to address the biases in the workplace that lead to discrimination.

Address Workplace Biases

There are two types of biases that could be at play in the workforce. You should be aware of these biases and consciously make an effort to reverse them.

Affinity Bias – the unconscious tendency to gravitate towards people that you view as similar to you in terms of life experiences.

For example, you went to the same college or grew up in the same neighbourhood. In the workplace, this shows up in hiring practices and can be justified through “corporate culture”.

Confirmation Bias – the unconscious tendency to process evidence in a way that supports pre-existing beliefs or expectations. For example, you consume political information that supports your political beliefs in their entirety, but only partially consume political information that doesn’t support your beliefs. In the workplace, one might ignore market research in favour of an idea they like better, or in favour of an idea that supports their “gut check”.

Review Your Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Policies

Take a look at the current Diversity and Inclusion Policy at your workplace. Be cautious about buzzwords like fair practices, diversity, and equality. Many of these policies will include vague phrases like “we foster a corporate culture where all voices are welcomed and heard”. But how are they doing that?

See what kind of specific language they use about women in the workplace, racial and ethnic discrimination, hiring practices, and LGBTQ+ support.

What are your corporate diversity initiatives? Does your company “say” they prioritize diversity but actually employs 80% white workers? Does your work even have a Diversity and Inclusion Policy? These are things you can talk to your manager about.

Talk To Your Managers, HR, and Business Leaders

There are certain things you can ask of your employer with regards to workplace diversity and inclusion.

  1. Ask them to start tracking employee demographic data to identify areas of improvement
  2. Ask them to survey employees on their experiences with racism and sexism in the workplace
  3. Ask them to include a more diverse set of individuals in the hiring process
  4. Ask them to implement sensitivity training to help employees and leaders to identify unconscious biases

“Diversity” and “Inclusion” Are Not Just Buzzwords

Diversity and inclusion need to be part of corporate culture, and not just in a “buzzword” kind of way. Real corporate diversity can foster innovation, productivity, and increased revenue.

Millennials are a great example of this, as they prefer to work at diverse companies and are more likely to be actively engaged in work when they believe that their workplace fosters diversity. Therefore, companies and individuals need to step up to foster true diversity and inclusion.

Lead Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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