The awareness and importance of diversity and inclusion has evolved over the last couple of years. Today, it has become a pillar of business growth and development and is now a part of the core values for many companies. The LINK spoke to SCC Members to understand their approach to the topic within their organisations.
When hearing the word diversity, one might immediately think of equality and gender discrimination. According to Karol Vieker, Equality and Diversity Manager at Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), the field covers far more than just that. At SSE, diversity is based on the seven grounds of discrimination in Swedish legislation which is gender, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, disability, sexual orientation, age, and religion or other beliefs. The SSE has also added social background to define what diversity is, so that students and employees feel encouraged and welcomed to come to the school to study or work regardless of any of these characteristics. “Quite simply, we want a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences and an open atmosphere where everyone can be themselves regardless of who or what they are,” said Vieker.
Ran Lavie, Learning and Diversity Specialist at Tobii Group, also pointed to the seven grounds of discrimination in Sweden, and said that their vision for diversity encompasses the idea that every “Tobiian” (Tobii employee) should be able to go to work knowing that they will treat and be treated equally regardless of any characteristics. He said: “Ideally, we all contribute to an environment where everyone can fulfil their own potential.” But why is it so important? According to Vieker, there are three main arguments for why it is important to actively work with diversity and inclusion. The first is the legal argument – Swedish legislation requires every organisation to actively work with these issues. This is the same in many other European countries and is a good argument to use with those who think diversity and inclusion are just a matter of opinion. The second is the business argument – study after study shows that a diverse workforce where employees can be themselves leads to better productivity, more creativity and higher profit. This argument works well with boards of directors and management teams, according to Vieker. Finally, there is the human rights argument – that it is simply the right thing to do. The starting point here is Article 1 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This is of course Vieker’s favourite argument.
David Cox, Management Consultant at Mercuri Urval, claimed that the business case for diversity is clear, and the societal benefits of increased inclusion of women, minorities and people from different cultural backgrounds are indisputable. Cox said: “Diversity creates better business results and team performance.”
He added that the first step towards diversity is to recruit right. The focus should be on how to overcome unconscious bias and make sure the recruitment processes focus on competence, potential and cultural fit.
Diversity will only flourish where “people decisions” are clearly based on objective merit and this is where an external party, such as a company like Mercuri Urval, can contribute. Cox added: “It is the collective sum of the individual differences, life experiences, knowledge, inventiveness, innovation, self-expression, unique capabilities and talent that our professionals invest in their work, that represents a significant part of not only a company’s culture, but also reputation and the company’s achievement as well.”
Lavie said that Tobii works actively to decrease bias both implicitly and explicitly. At Tobii, it goes a few miles beyond just saying “it’s ok to be…”, and instead focuses on an approach that says, “I am more than a...”. Tobii employees then engage with populations they would not normally get to meet or, might have a bias towards. As Lavie sees it, essentially, bias is the story we make up about a person before we even get to know them. “Without meeting the people and knowing their story, it is easy to justify a bias or even hate,” he said. Lavie also mentioned how Tobii’s products can help people live in a more diverse world. For example, Tobii’s eye tracking technology is applicable to customers of all kinds – from businesses to consumers to public institutions. The most obvious example of product diversity would be Tobii Dynavox’s devices and software, which empower people with disabilities to communicate. “The accessibility movement is all about embracing and enabling diversity, and our assistive technology products are at the cutting edge of this trend,” Lavie said.
“Diversity creates better business results and team performance”
When it comes to how diversity and inclusion more actively can be implemented in organisations, Vieker believes in using “norm-criticism” as a tool for change. She said: “The status quo and imbalances of power should be exposed, reflected upon and changed on both an individual and a structural level.” Rather than looking at what is considered to be “different”, a norm-critical approach focuses on what is considered to be “normal” and why, as well as who, benefits from following different norms. It also focuses on the consequences of breaking norms and how we all as individuals contribute to the power structures that either include or exclude. This is often uncomfortable since it leads people to the realisation that we are all part of the exclusion problem. It is clear that most companies are increasingly including policies on diversity and are understanding the importance of including all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, age, and religion. Vieker explained that we all have to be eternal optimists working with diversity and inclusion to ensure that this is no longer a problem that companies need to work with. She said: “If we’re all part of the problem, then we’re also all part of the solution.”