While it is frequently emphasised that diversity and inclusion are crucial to creating a healthy work environment, their tangible benefits are often overlooked. Not only do they create a more accepting environment for employees, but they also drive market growth and foster a more creative workforce for employers.
What it is
Often mentioned simultaneously, diversity and inclusion complement each other but do not mean the same thing. Diversity refers to a representation of different backgrounds including religions, genders, ethnicities and education levels, while inclusion is the process of ensuring that everyone has equal say, equal value, and equal rights regardless of their culture or qualifications.
The history of workplace diversity dates back to at least the 1950s when more women began joining the workforce, and in so doing began to face workplace discrimination. In the simplest terms, whenever a new group joins the domain or territory of another group, there will be a conflict which often results in discrimination.
The key to societal change is understanding what each of us can do to make our environment more inclusive and diverse. This is particularly important in Singapore, a society with diverse ethnicities and various religions comprising the workforce, with nearly 30% of the population being foreign.
Why should you care
D&I in the workplace affects both employees and employers. With D&I, employees experience a positive, non-discriminatory work environment, resulting in better mental health and higher retention. For employers, a more diverse and inclusive workplace translates into increased creativity and performance from employees, since they can turn to many sources for advice. With a diversity of opinions expressed, decisions tend to be better-informed and more successful. A diversity of backgrounds also helps the company resonate with a bigger audience, translating into a larger market share.
4 tips to promote diversity in work and everyday life
Whether you are an employer or an employee, there are certain tips that we can all easily practice to promote D&I in our everyday lives, starting with these four steps: understanding yourself, understanding others, communication, and reinforcing change.
Step 1: Understand yourself
This means the ability to analyse your strengths and weaknesses, blind spots, and unconscious biases. Questioning your behaviour and beliefs ensures that you are not making decisions based on your biases. The easiest way to test whether you are treating someone unfairly is by putting yourself in their shoes. Another way is to imagine the person that you get along with in place of the colleague that you don’t get along with and ask yourself why you treat the two coworkers differently. If it is due to that person’s background instead of personality differences or working styles, then this is something you need to address.
Step 2: Understand others
Understanding others means understanding what makes another person different from you and how that may inform your treatment of them. In other words, remaining aware of how they are different, what their sensitivities and biases may be and how previous experiences may have affected their current behaviour.
Step 3: Communicate
Communication is about putting the previous two concepts together, and being unbiased and sensitive to other people’s differences. Remain aware of your preconceived notions and try to eliminate them when communicating with others. Do your best to approach every situation and person with equal treatment. Creating a more diverse workplace goes beyond regulation and hiring initiatives. At the end of the day, we have to live up to the principles we stand for.
Step 4: Reinforce change
Reinforcement is a very important step of lasting change. Put in place processes to measure the success of the change, reward change with positive feedback and keep mechanisms simple enough to remember. Such change can be anything from simply asking your colleagues for feedback on how welcome they feel at work (measure success of change), complimenting your colleagues when you see them, trying to be more sensitive and welcoming towards others (reward change), and encouraging others to also take steps in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.