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  • Selina Kotecha

Inclusion is for everyone. So why are minorities still doing all the work?

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

In many workplaces, ED&I has become part of the everyday language, generally accepted as a good thing to focus on amongst other organisational priorities. Our latest research at The Unmistakables shows that we are more confident talking broadly about ED&I than two years ago so it seems we are heading in the right direction. Or maybe we are deluding ourselves. Although we seem to be more confident discussing ED&I at a high level, the workforce lacks confidence in discussing interpersonal identities, such as race and ethnicity, religion or belief and sexual orientation.


In our work with clients, we have seen that organisations are struggling to reinvigorate their ED&I efforts. A couple of years ago there was energy and commitment to change that drove employee networks to form and they have become a staple for organisations who are serious about creating change in ED&I. What we are now seeing is that underrepresented employees are feeling most discouraged, feeling like they cannot talk about aspects of their identity, and therefore not bringing their authentic selves to the workplace.


Employee networks need support

Having been part of an employee network myself, I have seen these challenges in practice. On one hand, employee networks provide a safe hub to speak to people who share similar characteristics and comparable lived experience. In these spaces, you can talk about being from a minority background and go into nuances of your culture without fear of judgement.


On the other hand, there is a sense of chaos and difficulty working out how to take meaningful action to make your workplace more inclusive. You feel together but alone at the same time, as if separate from the rest of the company. I remember asking to have a slot at our team meeting and D&I being introduced as “my” work. And that’s the core of why employee networks fail – underrepresented people are left to take on all the hard work of changing a whole company culture. People might listen to you, attend the training, but they don’t see it as relevant to them so don’t truly engage with it.


In our work with clients diagnosing cultures, we still see a lot of division. Some are resistant to ED&I because they don't see the value in it. This has also been reported by Gartner who have cited that organisations should push forward with ED&I efforts amid growing pushback, but it is important for everyone to be heard and resistance to be dealt with early. Our research shows that employees across all characteristics would leave a company if it was not inclusive for people like them, therefore inclusion must be made a priority.


So how do we move forward?

Firstly, ED&I initiatives must start recognising the value of linking to business strategy. As many ED&I efforts were set up reactively, the wider thinking into goals, ambitions and links to business strategy is lacking. Using employee resource groups (ERGs) as an example; in many cases, working groups are left with trying to resolve big cultural issues while being disconnected from leadership and other functions in the organisation. There is work to do to create these connections. Leaders must be involved in sponsoring ED&I efforts and proactively considering ED&I in the products and services they offer.


Another key consideration is governance. Like other business priorities, ED&I needs an organised process to deliver important goals. Rules of engagement need to be formed around working groups; highlighting their purpose, how progress is communicated throughout the organisation and how impact is measured. Roles and responsibilities need to be clear with involvement from key decision-makers in the business. From my experience of being in a working group, if this is missing, people tend to source their own networks to be involved in the ED&I movement which can result in further division and resistance.


Finally, building connections is crucial. The frustration we are seeing from underrepresented groups is likely occurring because they are not getting the support they need. Organisations need to think about why this is happening. How does allyship and sponsorship currently work? Is it easy for people to get involved if they are from the majority group? Our research shows there is still a fear of getting things wrong, particularly around nuances of identity. This will only improve if there is connection and an environment where people can learn from each other.


ED&I is a journey and there is no final destination. Much like engagement, it is fluid and ever-changing, but that does not mean we should give up on it. To make real change, we need to start looking beyond acronyms and labels and start to engage in the human side of ED&I which is about connecting and understanding others.



This article was written by Selina Kotecha, Inclusive Cultures Consultant at The Unmistakables, following the launch of the Diversity & Confusion 2023 report. Download your free copy of the report here.









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