We’ve all seen the articles, the posts, the clips and yes, even the memes. Let’s Restart 2020, or press fast forward and get us into 2021 already.

We’ve seen the detrimental impacts of COVID-19, and the unevenness to people from a range of different groups (yes, the impact has been much worse for women, for people of colour, for people with disability, just to name a few).

And we’ve started to see some sparks fly on what’s possible if we do things differently. Rapid adoption of flexible and remote work (we’re not perfect just yet but we certainly moved the dial), which means rapid challenge and change to the entire working system. If large groups are able to start working differently at the drop of a hat, surely we are more willing to consider other parts of the societal and working system that are not working well.

Add to that thinking, the global rallies and calls for racial equality, and we have another whole dimension of society demanding change, and demanding it at speed.

The ‘wait for change’ may well be over.

So, could 2020 be the Year for Diversity and Inclusion?

The Signals

1 – The visibility on Diversity and Inclusion in all facets of life is increasing – but it needs to be seen and felt by more people for impact.

We are hearing more stories of the impact of COVID-19 on diverse groups of people. Frontline and essential workers being affected at higher rates. We are seeing the names, and the faces of people impacted. And we are seeing the disproportionate role privilege, class, education, race, age, and gender play on COVID-19 and in our ability to have agency or control over our life. Our ability to change the way we work while sustaining our ability to earn an income.

Or absolutely no chance of doing that. Where that is not possible, with limited savings and a family or other dependents to care for, we see people either under or unemployed and ultimately, and sadly, exposed to the elements.

It is a US-story unfolding for me right now, but, it’s a story of daily lived experience – pandemic or no pandemic – for Indigenous Australians, Australians living with a disability, Australian veterans and more.

2 – Conversations are starting to get deeper and more frequent on Diversity and Inclusion.

For a long time in organisations we were effectively skimming rocks on the surface of diversity. All the time, we’ve been hoping that the rocks didn’t sink under the surface and force us to actually have to a discussion the bigger (real) issues. Now, we are starting to open up and challenge the layers under the surface, and move from incrementalism to more radical thoughts on change. If the system is broken, it’s not about ‘fixing’ an individual – that doesn’t fit the system. It’s about fixing the whole system.

3 –  There’s a new energy from this pandemic to create meaningful change

In the US, 40 million unemployed Americans, fairly sweeping stay-at-home restrictions (sure, without any overarching leadership) and a series of horrible events in the last few months – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to name just three people.

This combination of new challenges and old ones are creating a new energy to make meaningful change. We need to be doing more – and we need to be talking about these issues at work – because social issues are work issues. The emotion, and action, matter.

To help, because we’ve been thinking about the potential for serious system change for the longest time, we share with you our simple principles for Diversity and Inclusion work:

What are our principles for Diversity and Inclusion?

1 – Emotion Matters

This is clear. Diversity and Inclusion is about feeling and emotion – it matters. If we can trigger someone’s empathy (for example, empathy to being excluded, having power taken away, struggling with no privilege or opportunities), then we have a much greater chance of creating a personal connection and understanding of why Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging matters. At our core, as human beings, we value relationships, belonging and being part of something – this is an emotion we all need.

2 – We need to remove the eggshells to go from fear to confidence

Too often, topics of Diversity and Inclusion have eggshells around them. Naturally, we want to be respectful and polite, but this also means we are fearful of getting it wrong and worrying about saying the wrong thing. These sessions must create space for people to articulate their emotions and their unique perspectives, without fear of making mistakes or asking the wrong questions. There needs to be space to ask questions and learn from the answers. That must be done reasonably and respectfully, coming from the right place. Having the right intentions and a genuine desire to make change is a great place to start.

3 – We must include difference voices and perspectives

There must be a careful balance of activities and opportunities to contribute that bridge perspectives and allows space for all personalities and confidence levels. In asking for opinions in front of a large group, often louder, more confident, or more tenured people shine. In more intimate one-on-one conversations, more reflective people may have a more comfortable space to voice their views. To accommodate all people, these principles must be incorporated to encourage everyone to get involved – personal, reflective, conversational. Woven into that is a view that you speak from your lived experience, and listen for the lived experiences of others. No assumptions, no appropriation, however well intended.

4 – We must take a data-driven approach to move forward

This is about incorporating where you are up within your organisation by referencing meaningful data points. Your unique organisational context is critical to creating credibility and impact. It is not about being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it just ‘is’ your current reality. This positions your current context as the foundation, noting that wherever you start, you can always improve; Diversity and Inclusion is never static.

5 – Power and change come from knowing what’s expected, and giving every single person accountability for Inclusion

Traditional approaches have focused almost exclusively on ‘leaders’ or ‘management’. As organisations flatten and democratize, each individual needs to connect with the topic and take an active role in supporting and driving change. Connection, empowerment and accountability mean every individual is confident and expected to play their role.

What can you do today?

1 – Appreciate and acknowledge the emotion and talk to people

These topics can feel tough. It’s easier to shy away from than it is to genuinely talk about them. So, you need to decide, are you staying silent, avoiding the uncomfortable or fronting into it to be part of the change? Social issues ARE workplace issues, they are inextricably linked, not separate. We don’t have our actual selves and our working selves.  We just have us.

Questions to ask at work:

  • How are we really going on Diversity and Inclusion? Are we creating a space where people belong – their uniqueness is not just allowed, but drawn upon fully.
  • What does it feel like to be excluded?
  • What is your lived experience at work like? What is your lived experience outside of work?
  • What elements of Diversity matter the most to us? Why? What’s missing?
  • What are we collectively going to do? Then stretch that thinking x 10

2 – Create a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

We have a Diversity and Inclusion Facilitation Guide, Webinar and a Strategy Framework to get your started, or to evolve your existing work on our members site.

A Diversity and Inclusion Strategy needs to have a real leader story or message, a vision, a purpose, clear goals, a clear plan to deliver them, roles and responsibilities to help people achieve this, a communication approach and an evaluation methodology. It absolutely needs measurable impact.

3 – Create a meaningful action – where everybody has a role to play

We cannot leave Diversity and Inclusion to leaders, if we want Cultures and Systems to change. We cannot leave it to Employee Resource Groups, Employee Networks, Inclusion Councils or D&I Committees. This needs to be mainstream – part and parcel of how we work every day in every way- and it needs to be full steam ahead. We want to see every person in your organisation clear on the role they play, with one visible commitment to drive change.

If we can help you, please get in touch at [email protected]