How I Learned a Unique and Unexpected Lesson in Diversity and Inclusion
By DAWOLU SAUL
When we think about diversity and inclusion, our initial reference point is to think about those who are marginalized. Whether because of ethnicity, skin colour, gender, ability, sexual orientation; and the list goes on. While we are not wrong in this perspective, I was recently reminded that this is not necessarily…well, an inclusive perspective.
Now, I will preface this by saying that all things are relative and that these are just my own thoughts and opinions on the matter, but as I have said before, we will not move the yardsticks until we can openly talk about these issues, in an effort to build awareness, understanding and respect for each other.
So on to my lesson…
I recently went through the task of launching a recruitment process for executive entry-level positions into the communications community of the Canadian Federal Public Service. For those who have had similar experiences, you will know that it can be a long and arduous process that involves colleagues, superiors and HR experts as we painfully try to craft a job poster that articulates the needs, defines the experiences needed, etc. all while trying to be mindful of who might apply, who we want to apply (based on the job) and in today’s social context promote diversity and inclusion.
Well, despite being a diversity and inclusion champion in my organization for Blacks, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), otherwise known as visible minorities, I dare say that I learned something new on the issue.
After launching the poster, I started receiving dozens of comments and personal messages and while they were all positive, there was one ongoing discussion that stuck with me and which provided the much needed lesson.
I was challenged as to why the job poster was written from a strategic communications perspective when the bulk of the positions were within my branch of Digital Media and Marketing Services. Well, that question gave me pause and as my mind often tends to work, I could not stop thinking about this perspective. So here I am at five o’clock in the morning putting those thoughts on paper.
My first action was to go back and reread the list of experiences that we were looking for, and the knowledge and competency criteria that we requested. I then thought of my managers who occupy positions in marketing, creative, web, social media, internal and corporate communications, linguistic services and even in the client services centre that is part of my responsibility.
I could easily visualize any and all of those managers applying and being reflected in the criteria, but this wasn’t about if I was right and if this particular commentator was wrong, this was about whether that individual could see themselves and their reality and experiences reflected in that job poster. This was about if they were experiencing real or perceived barriers in being able to apply for the job. I certainly thought that they could, but the point was could they?
It is with this in mind that I would offer this challenge: when thinking about diversity and inclusion, by all means use the the perspective I mentioned at the beginning of this article because it is an important one, but be sure to think about being inclusive of thought, experience, professional ability and other aspects as well.
I don’t want to build teams of like-minded, homogenous people, I want to build teams of people who will bring their diverse cultural backgrounds, their unique way of thinking and their ability or even inability in a particular skill set to the team. As we transform our HR practices this will hopefully lead to greater retention and increased diverse recruitment.
One example that illustrates the potential benefits, is when I recalled an employee on assignment to be an interim manager on one of my teams. While this employee was doing me a great service, and despite the fact that I had every confidence they would be great, they initially displayed great apprehension because I was asking them to take on a job in a functional area where they had no previous experience.
We had many discussions on the issue, but I assured them that they would be working with a group of talented individuals who knew their stuff and who would be there to support them. Over a year later, that team is performing exceptionally, and it is due to the leadership and guidance of an experienced manager, who brought their skill sets to the team despite not being an expert in the functional area I was asking them to be responsible.
Within the communication space we often look for expert communicators, but why not enrich the team with a little policy or program expertise here and there? Why not push your managers to take on roles outside of their comfort zone? In doing so, we increase the diversity of our teams, create an inclusive group through the appreciation of diverse perspectives and at the end of the day we can all be a little better for it.
The human species is unique because we don’t learn by instinct, or collective memory, we learn through teaching and experiences among other things. So when we strive to achieve cultural, gender, age or other diversity on our teams, we must throw in a little diverse thought, professional experience, or skill set into the mix. You may be pleasantly surprised at the result.
We often talk about lessons learned, well this lesson has been learned.
I will leave you to chew on that for a bit.