Has D&I created more division than inclusion? Why middle-aged white males still matter.

2018 has so far been a momentous year in the drive to provide a fair and diverse working environment in which all employees are equally valued and rewarded. The publication earlier this year of gender pay scales, for example, have done a lot to build awareness of the need to balance the scales more equally between men and women. But it appears that some men now feel dismayed, disliked and disenfranchised.

Today is International Men’s Day and, in the spirit of inclusion, we thought it was relevant to acknowledge the need for Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategies to inclusively consider both majority and minority groups in the drive to create more diverse workplaces. The media coverage around London-based advertising giant JWT, which could face legal proceedings on the grounds of discrimination, is the latest example of a backlash from some straight, white, middle-aged men who typically characterise the opposite of the under-represented groups diversity initiatives are designed to support.

 Out with the old

Nervousness among this particular group is nothing new. Nearly three years ago, the US journal Harvard Business Review questioned the efficacy of diversity policies, referencing a study about the impact of ‘pro-diversity messages’ specifically on white males. This research revealed that in a simulation exercise, white men interviewing for a pro-diversity company showed visible signs of stress, expecting more unfair discrimination than those interviewing with a non-diverse firm.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is an area of incredible complexity. We should therefore not be surprised that the traditional occupiers of positions of power in the workplace now perceive themselves to be discriminated against as organisations scramble to redress the diversity balance.

 Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand

The point is that you can’t achieve meaningful diversity without inclusion, the other important half of the D&I equation. Diversity policies should focus on creating a fair and equal environment in which different approaches and perspectives are welcomed, allowing new ideas, different ways of thinking and problem-solving to flourish. Not only does this approach result in a more engaged and satisfied workforce but it also impacts the bottom line thanks to better organisational performance and greater productivity.

Inclusion is therefore critical to employee engagement. There’s little point focusing on recruiting a more diverse workforce if those individuals recruited don’t then feel supported and included in the environment they join. Organisations must therefore remain focussed on a need to create inclusive environments that support diversity and the desired outcomes of their D&I strategies. The creativity and innovation stimulated by a diverse population, in which individuals differ on a range of personal characteristics – from gender to thinking style – is only likely to be achieved where those individuals feel valued and included enough to collaborate and engage with others.

We’re not there yet and the JWT case perhaps highlights the need to continue both the discussion and research in this area, to ensure strategies designed to promote diversity retain the ethos of equality and inclusiveness for all, including middle-aged white men. After all, fairness, whether it be in selection or development, is about ensuring a level playing field for all, irrespective of personal characteristics.

Analise La-Band, Senior Consultant at WPG says: “As the descendent of a renowned suffragette once imprisoned alongside Emmeline Pankhurst, and speaking as part of the population that’s only had the vote for the last 100 years as a result of such dedication, I appreciate what it means to be undervalued. However, the Harvard Business Review article clearly demonstrates that the way to redress this balance isn’t to move the discrimination from one group to another. We also know that diversity goes beyond demographics and achieves little without inclusion.”

Managing D&I in the workplace

Here are a few tips for managers and leaders who are involved in managing D&I:

  • Diversity is wider than gender or ethnicity. Keep in mind that demographics (gender, age, sexuality, disability and ethnicity) is just one aspect of diversity, which also includes thinking styles and differences in knowledge, values and experience.
  • Don’t neglect inclusion. Establishing a fair and inclusive culture that benefits all is likely to require cultural change; ‘tick-box’ diversity exercises risk reinforcing the labels that create division. Besides, a reputation for inclusivity could also attract talent. According to global professional services company Deloitte, Millennials will account for 75% of the workforce by 2020 and most will want to work for companies that actively foster inclusion.
  • Be clear about what you want to achieve. Identify clear, measurable goals for any D&I interventions (such as D&I training) or strategies. Define and measure outcomes to determine whether goals have been achieved.
  • Be effective and compliant. Diversity policies must be researched and assessed for both effectiveness and most importantly, legal compliance. Such policies then need careful and considered implementation so that everyone in the workplace, including white, middle-aged men, feel valued and supported!
  • Consider how you communicate about diversity. Your language should emphasise both inclusion and the benefits of diversity in an inspiring and engaging way. Doing this will positively influence and engage employees as well as reflecting well on the organisation externally. Aim for a respectful and meaningful two-way dialogue with employees and other stakeholders. Leaders are critical to the success of developing an inclusive culture; not only do they need to ensure consistency in the messages around D&I, but they also need to role model inclusive behaviour to ensure this becomes embedded within the organisation.

What have been the outcomes of attempts to manage D&I in your organisation? Please click here to get in touch.