True diversity involves embracing a range of characteristics, backgrounds and world views. Most companies are a long way from this so the start point and today’s priority for organisations is diversifying the gender and ethnic makeup of their workforce. Having a diversity issue by its very nature means people are being excluded. Why is this? And, perhaps more importantly, what is the impact of this on these groups?
Women earn less than men. Women are less likely to be promoted (despite asking for promotions at comparable rates to men). Women find it harder to access ‘stepping stone roles’ that lead to senior positions, as they are less likely to have the senior networks required to facilitate this. There are fewer senior role models for women in the workplace to aspire towards. Unconscious bias fuels this further. Examples of this include: beliefs around feminine traits being incompatible with having the grit to lead a team and succeed; or translating the request for flexible working into a lack of commitment towards the organisation. At the same time, men are generally less likely to champion diversity efforts as many believe the workplace to be more equitable than it actually is, meaning a vicious circle can ensue.
As a result, women are less optimistic about being able to reach the top job. A lack of representation can leave them feeling dismissed or ignored. The demands of family life and work increases the likelihood of performance guilt and women are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome, affecting confidence and self-belief.
The CIPD report “Addressing the Barriers to BAME Employee Career Progression to the Top” illustrates how career progression is seen to be a more important part of working life for BAME employees (versus their white British employees), yet they are more likely to say that career progression to date has failed to meet their expectations. At the same time BAME people experience more discrimination (30% witnessed or experienced within the last year) versus their white British colleagues. The 2018 MacGregor- Smith review reported that “BAME people are more likely to perceive the workplace as hostile, they are less likely to apply for – and be given – promotions and they are more likely to be disciplined or judged harshly”.
As a result, minority professionals tread cautiously to avoid upsetting the majority group’s sensibilities. The CIPD research shows how BAME employees are significantly more likely than their white British counterparts to say they need to change aspects of their behaviour to fit in. Almost half of BAME employees say they feel they need to censor how much they tell their colleagues about themselves and their personal life.
This does not make for comfortable reading. Tackling diversity requires us to recognise the psychological impact it has on those experiencing exclusion and those perpetrating these behaviours through conscious or unconscious bias. No one wants to admit to being prejudiced, but I would argue everybody is to some extent. It’s said never a truer word is spoken in jest and the song from the musical Avenue Q comes to mind “Everyone’s a little bit racist”. We all have negative preconceptions about certain traits based on our own experiences and upbringing. We are constantly making judgements about people not only about their gender or colour, but on the accents they have, the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the newspaper they read. To encourage employees to be honest enough to acknowledge their bias and open enough to start challenging it is no mean feat.