Is Diversity and Inclusion Dead?

Apparently, Diversity & Inclusion is nearly the root of all corporate evil, making white men feel threatenedforcing people to take training they don’t want topromoting intolerance at workdoing nothing to remove biaspenalizing women and minorities, and is a system of workplace dynamics we just can’t handle.

With any point there is a counterpoint, and the business case for diversity is well documented in how it makes organizations strongermore profitable, and more innovative. But there is a core truth to all the naysaying articles about diversity; simply changing numbers does not change perspectives, social exclusion, or “old boys clubs”. Forcing people to take training isn’t the best way either since forced training usually amounts to warm bodies in a room, not engaged learners.

So if Diversity & Inclusion is dead, what killed it?

1. Single Issue Focus

The conversation around Diversity & Inclusion anchors in culture and people. “Culture,” while felt and understood implicitly to those within it, is extremely difficult to nail down, define, or change. “People” is (a bit) easier to change through hiring and firing, but causes the resentment, forced trainings, and other issues that are brought up in various studies and anecdotal complaints.

2. Siloed Efforts and Vague Direction

Under the current model of Diversity & Inclusion departments sitting only within HR it is easy for employees to not weave diversity and inclusion into their everyday work. While having subject matter experts (”Diversity and Inclusion Manager”) is important in a corporate environment, most employees are not given responsibilities or held accountable in a way they can actively change. Goals are vague (”be inclusive”) and actions even more so (”go source diverse talent”). Part of this challenge is also unclear metrics; the most clear is hiring diverse people, which is difficult to measure from a candidate perspective and again causes resentment and beliefs of a lower talent bar for the sake of “diversity”.

3. Communication Hurdles

A lot of the way Diversity & Inclusion is communicated focuses on making things better for historically oppressed populations or creating comfort. This message doesn’t resonate with many corporate employees who are think in dollars and cents or client service – personal office changes don’t fall in this category. Some organizations are moving to more broad based inclusion messages – it’s better for everyone, it makes us all more money, etc. – but many of these messages are so high level that it becomes difficult for an individual employee to internalize and believe in the message.

Moving from Diversity & Inclusion to Inclusive Design

Inclusive Design is the notion that every area of the business is responsible formaking your products, services, and working environment usable by the largest number of people. Inclusive Design extends the benefits of diversity and inclusion organization-wide without hitting the same hurdles that D&I currently faces

Inclusive Design Brings Everyone’s Perspectives to the Table

Inclusive Design makes measurement easier because it is directly tied to the tasks an employee has.

– Is your recruiting team making connections with candidates or community groups from diverse backgrounds?

– Is your development team building in features that are make it easier for users with hearing or vision disabilities or difficulties to use the product or visit the website?

– Is your content team using language that resonates with as many communities as possible?

– Is your legal team and HR ops up to date on nondiscrimination policies and required coverage/employee protections?

The list goes on. When Inclusive Design makes the conversation one that the whole organization must participate in, metrics, milestones, and goals become clearer.

It normalizes the idea that difference is something to be understood, not a hurdle to workaround. Inclusive Design is about asking questions relevant to your job that inch towards making your job outputs accessible to as many people as possible. This negates the issue that some people are penalized for promoting diversity because it’s about making your business accessible to every customer or talented candidate, not promoting an ideal or political stance.

It helps many people but hinders none. Adding a magnifying button on your website so that people with visual difficulties (or personal preference for larger text) can feel more at ease on your website does not harm anyone, but helps all who want or need to use the feature. It’s not about “fairness” and “equality”, but about creating more saleable products and services or making working environments more productive for employees and clients. This negates much of the challenges around D&I when it comes to training or hiring decisions that feel zero-sum to a lot of people.

It empowers all employees to take responsibility and do their part in the way they are able. This tackles the issue that many people feel left out of the ‘diversity conversation’ because they don’t feel they have subject matter expertise. Instead, everyone can bring their best to the table and make changes as they learn. .

It inherently tackles diverse hiring and talent sourcing challenges. The best candidate is one who has the literal skills to do the job (Skill), the personal disposition to thrive in your office environment and job culture (Merit), and the perspectives or life experiences that either strengthen your core needs or add a supplementary viewpoint to increase your holistic strength (Diversity).

With Inclusive Design, the Skills, Merits, and Diversity you need in your organization changes such that candidates with nontraditional backgrounds, unique life experiences, and/or different identities become necessary as you work to build better products or deliver better services. Once these qualifications become a priority for everyone in the organization, you will inherently draw a more diverse talent pool because job descriptions will resonate more strongly with candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Follow Stefan on Twitter @stefanpalios

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post

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