Workplaces often get it wrong regarding how they approach workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion training. A flawed approach leads to frustration or accusations that DEI training is a waste of time and money. If you are the human resource professional driving the process, it could cost you your job. In other words, well-meaning organizations put lipstick on a pig. If you put lipstick on a pig, it might be visually more appealing, but it still stinks like a pig. I find organizations usually take one of three flawed approaches to address workplace discrimination.
Three Flawed Approaches to Addressing Workplace Discrimination
- Reaction based strategy. Some organizations only react to specific overt acts or circumstances to keep the peace. Still, they don’t look at the systemic challenges that, in time, will allow another similar challenge to rise.
- Pretty PC Cover-up strategy. They put systems and policies in place, but they ignore the root causes of workplace discrimination.
- Bias sounds better strategy. Talking about implicit bias or unconscious bias (watch my video on the difference between implicit and unconscious bias) is much easier to discuss than racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, etc. Isms make us feel bad and make people in power uncomfortable. This strategy is a good start but never takes the deep dive into addressing current systemic challenges and the real-life impact on people in the workplace.
Suppose you are a CEO, executive director, chief diversity officer, or human resource professional. In that case, you need to work at the “whole hog” of dismantling structural “isms” in the workplace, not just one piece of the cycle of discrimination. Take a moment to look at the chart from The National Equity Project that shows the relationship between implicit bias and structural racism. As an organizational leader, if you want to be successful in your DEI efforts, you must address each phase in the cycle.
- Implicit bias. Implicit bias primes how we see and perceive the world around us. The priming translates to the assumptions made about team members, their capability, and their competence in the workplace. In other words, our bias influences who we doubt and who gets the benefit of the doubt.
- Systems. Eventually, as we stack our bias, create associations, and make assumptions, we develop a workplace culture. That workplace culture is sustained by historical references, policies, and practices. When working at diversity, equity, and inclusion, a high value is placed on fixing system issues. Workplace trainers might even spend a great deal of time auditing your written workplace policies. But you can’t just put lipstick on that pig without looking at the pig itself. In the workplace, the unwritten rules must be addressed (they are the stinking pig). The unwritten rules are a part of the culture, part of the system. Think about baseball. Baseball is one of the oldest institutions in the country. Most fans know the game’s unwritten rules and understand that there are consequences if someone breaks an unwritten rule like flipping a bat. There is no written policy against bat flipping, but most baseball purest would say that bat flipping is disrespectful to the pitcher, but the act also desecrates the game. Flip a bat, and you might get hit with a pitch the next time you are up to bat. What are the unwritten rules in your organization, and what are the consequences for breaking them?
- Current disparities. Organizational leaders would be foolish to address phases one and two of the cycle and ignore overt discrimination issues and the “isms” of the moment. These overt acts lead to workplace disruptions, high employee turnover, stress, and an overall loss of productivity. But you can’t just deal with workplace discrimination symptoms without addressing the root cause and systems that create them. From time to time, I like to watch Dr. Pimple Popper. When she cuts out a lipoma or pops a nice juicy pimple, she tries to get all of it, down to the root. Otherwise, she knows it will grow back, harming her patient. Once with eliminating workplace problems related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, we don’t want them to come back.
What culture do you want to create in your workplace? Are your solutions stuck in one phase of the cycle but don’t know how to break through to address all three cycle elements? My team and I are happy to work with you to create lasting solutions to help your organization become more culturally competent. We work with organizations that want to increase profits & productivity through building intercultural competency. We want to help you accomplish your mission with less stress, reduced risk, and greater efficiency.
Let’s connect. Schedule a brief chat with Glen to begin looking for solutions.
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