Becoming bolder about diversity and inclusion

By Betty Wilkinson on Thu, 21 March 2013

There is a delicate balance in everything. Gender and diversity is the same. Within many organizations there have been significant historic challenges in rebalancing the numbers of men and women, and treating everyone more fairly. Research clearly demonstrates that gender balance improves organizational performance and profitability, so change is in the wind. What I and my colleagues have learned about making this happen was to have a lot of balls in the air,  and to revisit something when the time is right. And to be bold when it matters.  

Most large corporations and development organizations are like the Queen Mary -- large, turns slow. But if we plant an idea or two on gender and diversity and then come back later, often the turning process has started and things are moving even though we initially may not feel the shift. Probably my best example of that was our work on flextime, where we were not making much progress. A number of us tried various things, from going to leaders to making the business case more obvious, and doing a survey of women staff. And suddenly flextime was put in place, and a wide range of people now benefit. The trick is understanding whether the boat is changing course or not, and what are the pivot points. 

What has worked for us in innovation for gender and diversity is precisely what you DON”T think of when you consider new ideas. We are led to believe that they come in a sudden burst of inspiration. But what really happens is that the “aha” moment is the result of thousands and thousands of moments of considering and thinking and prodding and failure and backtracking and, ultimately, learning how to build things that last. So what can we do to think creatively? Read emerging research. Google to see what people are writing about, what they are thinking.  Explore key words from the gender, diversity and inclusion area, from our other interests, from things people say around the building and the world. Do Sudoku puzzles. Look at what other organizations are doing, especially ones like ours. Work to make our minds less judgmental. 

Success in a multicultural diverse institution takes leadership. I am fortunate to have a senior manager for whom gender and diversity matters a great deal. It is not always easy for him, but he understands the importance of this change. When he commits I know he will deliver, no matter what. This is rare and truly valued. Of our seven sector directors and head of safeguards, four of us are women, so you can see he walks the talk.

One of the greatest things that is happening now is that men are working with women on gender issues. The second hand is now clapping. Men matter, and they don’t realize how much.  Many of my male colleagues are very clear on the issues of fairness, and at some point in their lives or careers have faced discrimination and bias. Some men are starting to get involved in discussions and actions for more equity and diversity within our organization, and they are welcome and cherished. They get it, and we hope they will be infectious.

We need to be much better about how we communicate internally throughout our organizations about the importance of gender and diversity, and to ensure everyone knows and believes that we will all benefit if our work environment improves. In a truly diverse environment, it is harder to be biased in favor of one nationality or sex or age because it becomes an unacceptable form of behavior. That is fundamental as a cultural shift, and it will help us move towards sensible and effective recruitment, retention, and talent management, where gender and diversity are a natural part of the entire system. And, of course, we get better organizational results.

Finally let me stress that gender, diversity and inclusion is not a woman thing. It is a human thing.  We are all involved and networked and affected whether or not we notice it at the time.  So we can all afford to be bolder and more involved, to make things a lot better.

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