COVID-19 has certainly disrupted many aspects of our lives in 2020 and while the effect of this pandemic is likely to have far reaching implications, it has given us an opportunity to reflect on the way things were done and think about ways to do things differently. As we buckled down and worked from home during the lockdown in various parts of the world, some of us may have struggled with privilege guilt and wondered what inclusion under lockdown should look like?
COVID-19 has highlighted the inequalities in our society – amongst vulnerable groups, men and women in frontline jobs, and the digital and gender divide in educational access.
In spite of the world going through a pandemic, the senseless killing of George Floyd and the images of thousands of protesters marching with their masks on have heightened the need to make more concerted efforts to address diversity and inclusion (D&I) in our organisations and society at large. As countries begin to lift lockdown measures, and we begin to return to our workplaces, there is no better time to ask ourselves what inclusion in a post-COVID19 world should look like?
As I ponder this question, I am reminded of a quote by Verna Myers:
Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.
Unfortunately, as recent events have shown us, even in 2020, our societies and organisations are sadly not places where everyone feels included enough to be able to dance. My hope is that inclusion in a post-COVID-19 world will mean that every single person feels that they are respected, that they have equitable opportunities, that their voice is heard and that their contributions valued. To make this a reality requires us to change the way we fundamentally look at D&I.
If we step back to ask ourselves what it is we want out of our D&I strategy, most leaders in organisations would say that they want talent with a wide range of skills, expertise and perspectives. This is cognitive diversity, an approach to diversity that we should be focusing more on when it comes to the D&I strategy in our organisations rather than the counterproductive efforts to make minority groups fit in. As part of this approach, we need to urgently fix the systemic biases and eliminate micro-aggressive behaviours that are at present deeply rooted in the way organisations and societies operate making them unjust and unequal.
The key to enabling this to happen is having everyone’s buy-in and openness to others’ skills, expertise and perspectives.
This will help create a culture of active allyship where everyone feels like they have a personal responsibility towards creating more inclusive organisations for all. What does being an active ally entail? It means really questioning your unconscious biases, calling out micro-aggressions when you see them, and taking action to correct the systemic bias that exists in various processes in your organisation. Unconscious biases are the prejudices and stereotypes that we have towards others that result in micro-aggressive and aggressive behaviours against people from those groups while systemic biases are the prejudices and stereotypes that are rooted in our institutions and the processes within them that result in biased outcomes of these processes.
To address both requires the active allyship of every single person in the organisation.
Decision makers in organisations need to realise that it is not enough to have a D&I strategy and to make public statements of support.
Leaders need to believe that D&I is the right thing to do, and that it has positive benefits for the organisation. Leaders need to “walk the talk” and be truly active allies themselves, holding themselves accountable and actively demonstrating inclusive behaviours with zero tolerance for micro-aggressive and biased behaviours. This will also require leaders to put in concrete efforts towards eliminating systemic biases in hiring and promotion process, correcting flaws in organisational systems to make them equitable for all and nurturing a truly inclusive organisational culture for all employees.
COVID-19 has been called the great reset. It has given us an opportunity to really reflect upon the trajectory the world was taking, and we stand at a crucial point in human history. We need to take the next steps into defining the kind of world and organisations we want ourselves and future generations to thrive in – one in which there is justice, equity and inclusion for all.