What is Diversity & Inclusion?

March 20, 2019
March 20, 2019 Polykala

What is Diversity & Inclusion?

After about seven years running Diversity & Inclusion training across Victoria and Australia, we thought it wise to share our thoughts and approach on workplace and community ‘Diversity & Inclusion’.  We agree with Andres Tapia’s statement that “diversity is the mix and inclusion is making the mix work”. It’s a pithy summation of how the terms are linked but distinct. In this post, we unpack how we make sense of the terms and more importantly how we go about designing our training. We believe that being inclusive of diverse identities and viewpoints (within reason) requires people at all levels to practice leadership.

Diversity describes the facets of our identity as people and includes aspects that differentiate and bring us together. Inclusion is a verb – something people can do to tolerate (at the very least), accommodate and celebrate human diversity. Polykala works with local governments, NGOs and public administrators to help them become more inclusive of diversity. We use improvisational theatre, Adaptive Leadership and guided experiential activities to equip participants to be more inclusive and courageous. This work forms a part of our core mission to help people and organisations tackle adaptive challenges and thrive.

Increasing social diversity is one of the greatest adaptive challenges humanity has faced. It is also one of the most valuable opportunities we have created to evolve toward a more pluralistic society underpinned by a respect for human rights and common law. Diversifying populations intensify the need to find ways to adapt in a way that preserves what’s working, discards old and damaging ways while growing new cultural norms – this is adaptive work. Urbanisation, mass migration along with social movements (e.g. #MeToo, Treaty with 1st Nations & LGBTIQ rights) are challenging old authority structures and vested identity & class-based interests- this is triggering the ‘right’ kind of conversations our society ought to have. Having a broad range of human expression come together creates an opportunity to figure out how we can cohere by adhering to overarching values, while at the same time examining what changes need making to include more people’s voices and choices.

When poorly managed diversity can collapse into partisanship and marginalisation and, at worst pulls us apart, tearing at the fabric of social cohesion. It is particularly damaging for people and groups with little formal authority. The result is a lived experience of suffering, exclusion and marginalisation. Thankfully, organizations, communities and whole nations have realized that leaving people on the margins of political, professional and community life is not fair. Moreover, it fails to grasp the opportunity that diversity offers. Leveraging human diversity is at the very least good talent management! Let’s zoom in on what we mean by diversity.

There are two genres of diversity: diversity of identity and diversity of thought (cognitive diversity). Diversity of identity expresses itself in myriad ways – the languages we speak, our ancestry, the faiths close to us, the people we love, the multiple strands that make up our personal and collective identity. Cognitive diversity is expressed through the ways in which we as individuals think about and perceive the world. Both types of diversity interact with each other. Sometimes, cognitive diversity can be hard, it might involve accommodating views and practices you don’t agree with or you cannot stomach. After all, the word ‘difference’ is a synonym of diversity which can be a way of politely naming disagreement. What do we do when people in the same workplace have different views? I.e. some religious convictions do not accept sexuality and gender diversity, some people believe that gender roles are pre-ordained. Diversity isn’t always welcome and it’s far from easy – sometimes the best we can hope for is tolerance. This might shift over time to acceptance, celebration and new cultural norms.

Managing and making the most out of cognitive and identity diversity needs to be an ongoing process. Along with sensibly crafted (and reviewed) legislation and policy, we believe one of the best tools to cultivate more inclusive workplaces is conversation and bystander action. Facilitated conversation that builds understanding, asks challenging questions and creates connection between people is one of the best ways we can work through divergences in thinking and identities to cultivate workplaces that honour diversity.

Our training creates opportunities where participants can (a) reflect on own relationship to diversity, (b) understand the impacts felt by people who experience marginalisation and, (c) learn and practice strategies to cultivate workplace cultures that celebrate diversity. We invite participants to treat ‘inclusion’ as a verb, something they can enact to make a positive difference in their workplace and everyday life. We reckon inclusion needs to be a core value that organisations take seriously. It is an opportunity to exercise adaptive leadership for ethical and productivist reasons.

Polykala has had the pleasure of cultivating ongoing relationships with a range of organisations in the government, NGO and education sectors to help them become better practitioners of inclusion. More than 15 local governments and numerous organisations across Victoria and Australia including Oxfam Australia, Plan International and the Institute of Public Administration Australia have engaged with our Diversity & Inclusion training to up-skill their staff and stakeholders. Our training encourages and equips participants to be active bystanders and more persuasive advocates for the advantages of social diversity. In 2017, this culminated in our training being recognised by LG Pro’s 2017 Award for Excellence in the ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ category.

There’s never been a more important time to reflect on the role diversity plays in our society and the part each one of us can play to be more inclusive of the different ways we are human.

If our approach to diversity strikes a chord with you, we’d love to chat.

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