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Workplace Inclusion and Diversity

Workplace Inclusion and Diversity

Pocket Change episode 12 with Laura Jennings

Diversity is the makeup of a workforce that weaves together the unique perspectives, backgrounds, and ethnicities of each individual. Through these different perspectives and worldviews, a diverse workplace can foster innovation and creativity. However, with diversity, we can also create tension and conflict.

According to BehaviourWorks Australia’s PhD candidate, Laura Jennings, a diverse workforce is made up of individuals with different backgrounds and worldviews. With this, these individuals challenge the status quo and the dominant behaviours within a workplace. Thus, conflict can arise.

Inclusion is one way to manage this conflict.

While many organisations already have strategies and training initiatives in place to try to build an inclusive workforce, not all prove effective. Unfortunately, some individuals may perceive these efforts as intrusive or accusatory.

Laura provides insights into her research on workplace diversity and inclusion to offer effective approaches to implementing workplace inclusion strategies.

Grab a coffee, press play, and enjoy this episode of Pocket Change, Working Inclusion and Diversity:

Pocket Change is a series of pocket-size videos about a key aspect of behaviour change.  Each episode features a BehaviourWorks Australia Researcher explaining their area of expertise in a clear and simple manner.

Transcript

GEOFF
Hi, everyone. This month I'm speaking to Laura Jennings about her work in inclusion and diversity. Firstly, what is diversity and why is it a good thing?

LAURA
I guess what we've got is we've got two things that get used together often. One is diversity. One is inclusion. So when we talk about diversity, diversity is the makeup of the workforce. It's the who, it's the what.

GEOFF
So with diversity, we get tension or conflict. Talk a little bit about what happens when a diverse workplace brings people together that are from different backgrounds, have different world views.

LAURA
They see the world differently, they do things differently, They challenge what the dominant group has done for so long because they come in with a completely different perspective and whether that be on gender or socio economic basis or race or religion or anything we can talk about, they challenge that system. So what happens in that is conflict can arise.  And so one of the problems with diversity is that we then have to work out how to manage that conflict.

GEOFF
So talk about the tools at hand to manage conflict, particularly in a workplace situation.

LAURA
The biggest one we have, and it's an overarching banner, but it is this concept of inclusion. So to manage conflict, what we sit there and say is, okay, if everyone has a right to feel included within their workplace, we spend an inordinate amount of time in our workplaces, sometimes more than we'd like to. But in that what we need to do is make sure that we that we feel like we're valued. So there are two main constructs that sit in inclusion and one is belonging; I feel like I belong here. And the second thing is that I feel I can be my authentic self. So some people could feel like they belong, but they've had to change themselves.

They've had to assimilate so strongly that they're no longer themselves. That's actually quite psychologically stressful. Whereas when we can be ourselves and also feel like we belong, then that's when we get to a utopia in the workplace.

GEOFF
But in fact there are workplaces where people are unaware of diversity issues or the fact that they belong to the dominant group.

LAURA
It is absolutely right. And so that's where inclusion comes in to assist us with diversity. We have to start to build an understanding of those people that are around us. And it does become really contentious because people can feel like it's being rammed down their throat. You know, you're telling me to believe a particular thing or you're telling me to behave and this feels ridiculous. Why do I have to do X, Y, and Z when you know I don't have a judgment against someone? And so organisations put these training and other initiatives in place to try and build an inclusive workforce.

And look, some of those work and some of those work less well.

GEOFF
What can leaders do? What is the CEO do to try and bring about a change or to encourage inclusion and diversity?

LAURA
Firstly, it's leadership. So when we look at HR systems in really broad terms, we look at leadership, we look at culture, and we look at policies and practices. We're going to put them in three in three bands. And so as a leader, you model inclusive behaviours. So you ensure that you're not saying something that's offensive to anyone, but you're also driving home a message that is about inclusion and that it's okay to make a mistake because in this field, sometimes what can happen is we get really nervous. We get really nervous that we're going to say the wrong thing.

So we stop saying things, which doesn't help that feeling of belonging. Because what happens is you know, the female walks into an all male environment, the men go, "We don't know what to say. So we just won't to speak to her, right, in case we get in trouble." That's the last thing we want. So we want a space where leaders can model that because they can make mistakes.  And then "sorry, I got it wrong. How do we do it?"

GEOFF
Tell us about bystander interventions and what that means. So other than a boss saying stop that, because I happen to see that at the right time, what other kind of interventions are there?

LAURA
A lot of this stuff is, you know, whether we call them micro-aggressions or incivility, it happens outside of that. So it's often one on one. Or it could be in front of people. And so where bystander intervention becomes a really powerful tool and it's being used quite effectively in instances of sexual assault and harassment on campus, that's where it's kind of empirical merit comes from.  When something happens just while we're sitting here together and someone's here with us, let's picture we've got a bystander with us - I say something that might be unthinking, offensive to you. I don't intend to. The bystander could just step in and go, "Oh, Laura, that was a bit off."

When we talk about bystander intervention, it's got three parties; the target, the perpetrator - a poor word - and then we have a bystander. It can be done in the moment. It can be done afterwards. We can take that person aside and go, 'Oh, you know what? I wouldn't do that again', you know, and it can be done quite strongly or it can be done quite gently as well. It all depends on the situation. It's so context dependent.

GEOFF
The entire construction industry has steel capped boots and high vis gear and helmets, as a behavioural way of making their work safer. I don't think anyone's objecting to how they dress or have a look, so they accept that. But a change in behaviour can be seen as a much more threatening attack.

LAURA
In a way.  It can feel like a workplace is trying to change your attitude. And the thing is, is workplaces aren't really here to change attitudes. They're here to create a safe space for people to work that delivers, that produces things in whatever way that it does.  And so, you know, if you're the CEO of an organisation and your job is to make that workplace safe.  And we're safe because of behaviours, we're not safe because of attitudes.  Now, if attitudes happen to change through training and through exposure to people who are different to us that we've never met before, that's fantastic. But organisations are here to make sure that the behaviours of people within the workplace are safe for everybody.

GEOFF
I have had men say to me, 'Ah, don't you understand? You're a straight white male. We're the victims here.' And they've said it half joking, and I've half joked back 'I don't think we qualify as victims'. But that attitude is prevalent in many workplaces.

LAURA
Very much so. And so we see this in times of change. I guess we could do a historical study in times of change where the dominant group is challenged can be really difficult. And it's not affected by it education level.
It's not really affected by profession. It's really affected by how someone internalises those feelings of this cultural shift that is occurring.  We hear expressions like 'Stop, We really don't like this'. There are women coming in and they're feeling threatened. But then what happens is they might go home and they might talk to other women that they know. And the big one is a female arrives on site that is the same age as their daughter. And suddenly that starts to shift it. And we know that is context here. We know that when people can relate to an individual and feel empathy, that we end up in a situation where they can understand how that person might be feeling and furthermore, the steps that they might take to make that person feel more comfortable.

GEOFF
And empathy is a driver of change.

LAURA
It's huge. So in bystander intervention, the first thing you've got to do is understand that the incident has been problematic and really, one of the only ways you can do that is either through emotional empathy - I feel it because I've experienced that before - or cognitive empathy; I can take the perspective of that person because I've had a conversation with someone else close to me, they've explained it to me or I can relate that feeling of, you know, I might have been discriminated against or had issues because of my gender.

And I think that this is one of the themes that's coming through for this particular group that feel really victimised, is in some ways they may never have experienced that feeling before, that these are really new feelings, that they feel that they might be being discriminated against. You know, the promotion that I thought that I might get, I can't because a female is being chosen in front of me. And that's really hard. It's a really hard feeling

GEOFF
Change is something that happens when enough people bring about the change, when the social norms change, and enough people say enough is enough. I won't tolerate that behaviour anymore. We see with things like Harvey Weinstein, the MeToo movement and that sort of stuff.

LAURA
Yeah, well, we've done with the MeToo movement, you've got this tsunami, particularly in the cases that you referenced in in how women have been treated over time. And a lot of that treatment became normalised. So if a female was to stand up and defend themselves, "You can't take a joke". That excuse was normalised. Then the idea that either 'she'll make a false complaint' was normalised, that that was a reasonable thing to say to someone when they confided in you that they'd been sexually assaulted a Christmas party was normalised. If you say, have you got proof of that? Yeah. You think about the trauma of the person who's gone through that in any diversity dimension. And what happens is suddenly that there's this tipping point, particularly with the MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, where everyone went 'we can't turn away from this'. And so suddenly that norm gets challenged. And in challenging that norm, we then start to go, okay, you know, no, we don't question the victim. We take a victim centred approach and it starts to create an environment of safety.

And that allows more people to come out and talk about it. And this is one of these powerful patterns of bystander intervention, is because it happens in peer groups.  It just takes one to turn around, and say 'it's not okay'. What we know from the research is 70% of that group think that that behaviour is not okay. But they don't know how to challenge the norm because they're not in a position of power to do that.

GEOFF
Where are we in the journey of inclusion and diversity? Is this we're at the start of that journey, do you think?

LAURA
Well, we're well and truly into it in terms of workplace culture. Look, I think we're well and truly into the journey. I think where we're at the start of is really trying to get an understanding of what works and what doesn't. One particular interest of mine is around this idea of backlash. So there are groups who want to dismiss that dominant group and sit there and say, 'well, just get on this bus or whatever". I also don't think that's fair because I think that if they're not feeling included, I'm an inclusion scholar. I'm passionate, but I passionately believe that everyone should feel included in work in society.

So if a group is feeling excluded, let's have a conversation about that. There's no right or wrong. There's no "let's talk to that person. They're wrong". You need to take on this belief set to tell a conversation about why that person might be feeling that way. Just as we would expect it in reverse.

GEOFF
Laura Jennings, thank you very much.

LAURA
Thank you Geoff.

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