I have always been interested in social responsibility topics, and, luckily, ten years ago, I joined Wunder – a company where I actually can convert my interest into practice. So, when Linkedin popped up the message about the upcoming Global inclusion forum, it felt so organic that I immediately decided to sign up for the event. And no obstacles from my employer were brought up, as Wunder always encourages and supports personal and professional growth. We just need to be open about our needs and wishes.
Like for many of us, conferences and forums are nothing new for me. Just on-site! So, this 100% online event with several parallel session tracks, online expo, startup pitches and workshops was quite a new experience for me. Especially in terms of format and interactivity online. The event itself was taking place on the PINE platform, and I need to admit that all 3000+ participant needs were covered very well (except the coffee and lunch 😀 ). I really got the conference feeling while physically being at my home office. In addition, this kind of format is way more nature friendly.
Fun fact. I experienced my own diversity reality check even before the conference had started – when signing up for the event, I created full working day bookings in my calendar for May 20-21. A day before the conference, I opened the schedule to choose the sessions and – surprise, surprise – the timetable was totally out of my regular working hours (THU 9:00-14:00m, FRI 15:00-23:00 EEST time zone). Unexpected but obvious – as it is a worldwide event and participants represent different time zones.
Anyhow, I shuffled my schedule around to be able to follow the conference. I always find these kinds of events very inspirational and even transformational on a very personal level. And I am happy to share some of my takeaways that made me think, evaluate, re-think and make some conclusions. Maybe these will activate your brain and heart as well.
First – the terminology
Abbreviation DEI was used a lot in session descriptions and during the event itself – it stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Diversity – the presence of difference within a given setting. It relates to different aspects and levels like the diversity of identities, cultures, ages, opinions, preferences etc. Persons are unique, but they can bring diversity to a group.
Inclusion – the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully. While diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique, inclusion refers to the behaviours and social norms that ensure people feel welcome.
Equity – an approach that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities. It’s a process that acknowledges uneven starting places and seeks to correct the imbalance.
Session “Why Inclusion is Often an Illusion: D&I Lessons from the World of Special Olympics” highlighted the issue that companies and organizations might confuse the terms when talking about their internal processes and culture. Companies are hiring people from different groups and call it diversity, but it’s not yet inclusiveness. You can be invited to play a game (and this is already a good start towards the DEI) but the success rate is very much influenced by such questions as Who is organising the game? What are the rules of the game? Does everyone in a group want to play?
This really resonated with me – I consider myself pretty open, tolerant and inclusive but am I really? Where is my borderline in accepting differences, and when do I start feeling uncomfortable? It forced me to think and admit to myself that there are still situations when stereotypes or “taught attitudes” are more natural and therefore stronger than my will to be non-judgmental.
From the business perspective, it is also essential to acknowledge the need and benefits of DEI, prepare the team and only then start the adaptation process. Diversity topics are very personal; therefore, openness and acceptance can’t be imposed. If I’m ready, that doesn’t mean that my team is ready.
Cognitive bias – a strong, preconceived notion of someone or something, based on information we have, perceive to have, or lack. These preconceptions are mental shortcuts the human brain produces to expedite information processing – to help it make sense of what it sees quickly. Although these biases are unconscious, there are small steps we can take to train our minds to adopt a new pattern of thinking and mitigate the effects of these biases.
Ally – an individual who stands up for a person or group that is targeted and discriminated against.
Benefits of diversity and inclusion
There are plenty of research studies available about the impact of DEI activities on business development and performance. Here I will point the ones that resonated for me the most:
Enhanced decision making. You don’t know what you don’t know. You have to have the right people in your room to draw a broader picture and to reduce the blind spots. For example, the researchers Anita Woolley and Thomas W. Malone have discovered that the team’s collective intelligence rises when the team is gender diverse.
Accelerated innovation. Different opinions, experiences, and knowledge enable innovation and open up new opportunities to serve customers and improve internal processes. McKinsey report shows that companies may reach 33% revenue growth when mirroring their clients.
Unlocked hiring opportunities. Start looking outside your regular networks and usual recruitment paths, be open and attract great talents. Remote work brings even more flexibility when thinking about the employee location.
Reduced business risks. Having in your portfolio customers representing different industries may minimize your dependency on specific industries. COVID-19 situation showed that some businesses suffered a lot because their main customers were from one specific sector, which was locked down.
Growing the knowledge and network. Consider cooperation with different organisations and movements. For your business, it serves almost like outsourced knowledge about specific topics. It is beneficial for both parties.
Boosting brand image. Competition is so tense that social responsibility aspects, including DEI, can play a vital role when selling your products or services. Ethical and responsible business practices nowadays are considered a competitive advantage. This is a nice side benefit of practising a responsible business.
Inclusive recruitment practices
As mentioned above, you can reach new audiences and find excellent talents by integrating DEI practices in your recruitment processes. Some tips & tricks I saved in my notes:
- Use the same questions in interviews so you get comparable and repeatable data.
- Linkedin was mentioned as the most powerful diversity sourcing tool.
- Create networks with different organisations and associations to grow the source pool.
- Use gender-neutral language in your public communication and job ads. Apps may help here, for example, textio.com.
- Do blind resume reviews when such characteristics as gender, age, nationality and others are removed when filtering incoming applications. Digital apps and AI can be used for the process.
- Video interviews may be considered a better option for the first interview as it creates a safer environment for the candidate and may decrease the possible cognitive bias.
- People love to find similarities in other people; it may lead to unequal decision making. Involving existing employees in the recruitment process can improve the quality of decisions and avoid cognitive bias.
- There is a tendency for companies to hire a “culture fit”, which makes it so much harder for diverse thinking and new perspectives to join the team. These risks can be minimized by implementing several hiring steps and filters, involving more people in decision making.
At this stage, I can proudly say that the recruitment process at Wunder already covers almost all of the tips above, but, of course, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Want to experience it by yourself? Check out our open job positions.
The new era – new challenges
COVID-19 brought changes also to the work environment, daily habits and attitudes. Unfortunately, researchers admit that social distancing and high emotional pressure during the past 1.5 years pushed achievements in DEI some steps back. The level of empathy has decreased, discrimination has again increased, even new stigmas have been created. Kristen Anderson, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Barilla brought up a great allegory: “We are in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. We need to be empathic.”
My main personal takeaway from the discussions about life today is an adaptation to an equal and inclusive hybrid (onsite and remote) working model:
- Do not exclude those who stay virtual when we are back to offices. For example, those who are in office are more visible and get more mentoring and attention. The same goes for the meeting experience.
- Consider nominating an inclusion change agent or group.
- Create stronger bonds between the employees to support each other and be less dependent on management or some key persons.
- Everybody, regardless of location, should have the same access to the information and other opportunities.
- Implement downtime or being offline practices to reduce video and online interaction fatigue.
- Encourage people (actually also companies and customers) to create a “user manual of me” – a short description of things the other party should know about me, my habits and beliefs. This can help to build psychological safety and support open and caring company culture.
I’m thankful for the Global inclusion forum and other similar events for bringing up this topic, as this serves as a tool to recognize our blind spots and motivates us to reduce them. Piece by piece, we can build a safer, more tolerant and caring world for ourselves and the next generations. The deeper I dive into the DEI topics, the more privileged I feel. It reminds me to value and appreciate where I am and what I have.