In my opinion the kind of misconceptions that I hear and come across,  may be due to  the fact that some people only see diversity as one strand, frequently gender or race. While inclusion focuses on disability and the meaning of equality is about treating everyone the same, or ‘like I want to be treated’, sometimes this naturally comes from their own experiences or needs, and is thus understandable but is very limiting and unhelpful.

Some people can therefore be very aware and inclusive around one particular strand, yet be outwardly discriminating around another. In the UK, some, who see themselves as the ‘indigenous’ population, will see inclusion as giving too much to people who have only just come into the country and haven’t earned it. I have heard people from minority groups speak inappropriately about individuals or groups who are ‘taking their jobs’ etc.

In my personal and professional experience, there are a number of misconceptions about diversity, inclusion and equality (D I E); these often start with the individual’s own personal and professional experiences, including any learning and development courses they have attended, and any pressure/support groups they may belong to, as well as newspapers they read.

Personal responsibility & awareness

In my opinion, because you work with or know individuals who come from diverse backgrounds, come from a family which is diverse, you have diverse experiences, live in a diverse community, or you have the title of diversity champion et al that you necessarily will have an understanding about how to implement diversity, inclusion and equality.

Of course, your own personal and professional experiences will provide more awareness about D I E. However, this awareness and understanding may well be around the specific issues you have experienced around indirect and direct discrimination, prejudice, harassment or victimisation, with regard to age, class, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy & maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation (bisexual, heterosexual, gay, lesbian) and socio-economics. This is significant but is only one part of a greater picture and can lead to misunderstanding and generalisation – dare I say even more stereotyping.

In my opinion I don’t want the reader to think I don’t believe there are inequalities, which have impacted directly upon the individual/group – what I want the reader to understand is that misconceptions about diversity, inclusion and equality can lead to anger and frustration from others who feel equally they are not heard. While I talk about minority groups, I also acknowledge the need to focus on majority groups, and learn about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Individuals need to work together to understand their personal responsibility in ensuring inclusive language and behaviour, as well as an awareness of self and others, and the impact their assumptions have on self and others.

Individuals of the same age, same disability, same sexual orientation, same class, same race, same religion or belief etc. are ‘not’ the same; have not necessarily had the exact same experiences; do not feel the same; do not behave in the same way. However, individuals from these groups may at times fiercely protect the group they identify with, while not necessarily agreeing or indeed liking the individual.

I believe whole heartedly in the importance of pressure groups, while recognising for example that women are not a homogenous group, and neither are men. In the recent research I carried out, which focussed on the experiences of 109 senior women in financial services, there were a number of women who clearly felt that they would rather work for a man than a woman. My belief is that this response isn’t about the sex of the individual, but more about effective leadership.

However, women, and particularly minority ethnic women, are clearly underrepresented in both the public and private sector in senior leadership posts. Individuals from the same religion or belief do not always interpret the beliefs the same way, or indeed demonstrate the same behaviours.  Currently (maybe perpetually), I feel there is confusion about religion and culture, and this has been evidenced in the workshops we have facilitated. For example, the recent prosecution of a number of Asian heritage men in the Rochdale area has far more to do with a perceived culture, than religion or ethnicity.  Misconceptions about diversity, inclusion and equality can create dangerous and damaging assumptions and lead to tokenism.

For me, the focus on diversity, inclusion and equality is about personal leadership and clarity of understanding of this area. Diversity is a simple universal fact. Inclusion and equality exist only insofar as people choose it.

Top tips for leaders to conduct an ‘Equality Audit’

  1. Commitment from the key players within the organisation is vital.
  2. A budget for this work and clear timescales.
  3.  An Equality Audit framework, which guides people through the auditing process, & includes the collection of existing good practice and data.
  4.  Transparency & clear messages about the audit.
  5.  A Steering Committee, whose function is to assist in the implementation of the audit.
  6.  Ensure the right people are involved in the process, and have a shared understanding and commitment.
  7.  The following questions will assist organisations in carrying out self-assessments on their existing practices; though we recommend that an external organisation that specialises in diversity, inclusion and equality is employed, to professionally audit and assess.
  • What evidence is there, to clearly demonstrate that your company advances recruitment and career paths, and reviews, monitors and evaluates the intrinsic value of diversity, inclusion and equality?
  • When it comes to recruitment, promotion and board roles, what is the mindset of the decision makers?
  • What are the 10 key factors that your organisation puts in place, with regard to diversity, inclusion and equality?
  • What assumptions are made about diversity, inclusion and equality?What learning and development programmes have employees attended, with regard to the promotion of equality, the prevention of discrimination and the importance of good relations between all groups?
  •  What systems are in place to log, monitor and evaluate inappropriate behaviours and language?

How to ensure a D I E workforce

  1. Acknowledge that everyone in the workplace is a role model, and that their attitudes and behaviour are fundamental to ensuring the promotion of good relations between all groups, prevent all forms of unlawful discrimination and promote equal opportunities.
  2. Ensure that all employees comply with the equalities legislation, and have the confidence in preventing and challenging all forms of unlawful discrimination.
  3. Ensure that interventions in discrimination do not create fear and humiliation, but encourage understanding and clarity about the witting or unwitting behaviours.
  4. Ensure that everyone understands that the definition of an ‘ism’ is to “advantage or disadvantage someone because of their………… age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy / maternity, marriage or civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.”
  5.  Ensure that all documents, literature and displays avoid stereotypes, and celebrate differences and similarities.
  6.  Ensure that inappropriate behaviour and language are effectively challenged and discussed, in an atmosphere of openness.
  7.  Ensure that everyone understands that collusion is unhelpful, dangerous, and limits potential.
  8. Whistle-blowing is encouraged in some workplaces, and clearly isn’t understood in others – do individuals or groups collude with inappropriate behaviour, for fear of their own positions within the organisation? Or, do individuals and management understand that collusion is silence, active participation, as well as denial that victimisation and bullying is taking place. Some individuals suffer in silence – they may well leave, while others may confront the perpetrators.

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Written by Mui Li, director, Muika Leadership

Mui is considered to be one of the leading experts in the field of diversity, inclusion and equality, and has been involved in consultancy and training for the past 20 years. Her recently published book “Ever Say Die” has been described as “Political Correctness Gone Sane”, written to help the reader better understand the minefield of diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace. It seeks to debunk any myths around this subject matter.

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