“I must apologize that here we are in 2014 and we’re still talking about diversity and inclusion.” That’s how I began a presentation on this topic at a recent HR Florida chapter conference. I wonder when, if ever, we will no longer feel the need to address this subject. I’ve asked many colleagues their opinion on this and the responses have been varied, but what I hear most often is that stereotypical bias is perpetuated through the generations. Well, let’s stop that!
I believe we have made progress in reducing categorical bias in the workplace, but we have much work to do. Even if consciously we abhor prejudicial posturing, most professionals continue to struggle with bias-related assumptions, myself included. I had received an email from a representative of one of my clients. It was from Sandy, the Director of Nursing. I communicated electronically with Sandy for several weeks before we met face to face. As I stood there trying to conceal my surprise that Sandy was a man, I was rapidly mentally scanning all of the emails I’d sent. Had I addressed him inappropriately or made a female reference? Why was I so quick to assume a Director of Nursing was female? Could I be perpetuating stereotypical bias that nurses, flight attendants and teachers are females and doctors, pilots and principals are male? It was a self-awareness moment for me.
I encourage you to consider your personal values. Are you dragging some preconceived notions into your HR role? Examine your organization’s culture, too. Was it developed long ago by the founders and dominant leaders who were white men? If so, the values were probably shaped by their gender, their generation and their economic class and may have become integrated into the organizational practices. Those practices could unintentionally be limiting the opportunities of those that do not align with those values. Understanding the impact of your organizational cultural values will ultimately lead to removing the barriers to inclusion in your workplace.
Changing cultural values is not difficult. It just requires action. And it can begin with you. Approach cultural differences with interest, not fear or opposition. If you’re open to discovery, you will uncover fascinating things about other cultures: what motivates them, excites them, discourages them, fulfills them? Your observations and reflections of people become more accurate if you can move away from simple classification and allow for individual variations. This self-development opportunity translates into more opportunities for career advancement: a personal reward. Further, when an organization values individual differences, it is more representative of its community and stakeholders and is a more engaging and successful workplace environment.
Be mindful of how your assumptions are influencing your interactions and involve everyone in your organization on this inclusion journey.
Joyce Chastain, SPHR