Why Diversity In The Workplace Is Not Enough

by Sirius People

Sirius People   Why Diversity Is Not Enough
Estimated Reading Time: minutes

Diversity is one of those buzzwords thrown around in every HR department. 


We hire for diversity!

We need more diversity!

Yay, diversity!


While it’s great to see such enthusiasm for more diversity in the workplace, simply having representation of many different types of people isn’t enough. 

To put it plainly, diversity focuses on the differences. It’s about hitting that ‘quota.’ (Whether it’s real or perceived.)

According to the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) at the Rotman School of Management, quotas are often seen as illegal, unjust or “reverse discrimination.” They can lead to new or existing employees feeling as though they were a “diversity hire,” as opposed to someone hired based on their merits. 

We can hear the whispers around the office from here.

The reality is, while we should be hiring people of all abilities, ages, genders, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, education levels, and national origins, we also equally need to be working toward a more inclusive environment.

Before we jump into what a more inclusive environment might look like, let’s get on the same page with some key definitions.


What is diversity?

As mentioned above, diversity is the acknowledgement of differences. This includes but is not limited to ability, age, class, education, ethnicity, gender/gender expression, nationality, race, religion and sexual orientation. 

Traditionally, employers have been biased toward only hiring white, cisgender, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, Christian men who came from an English-speaking upbringing and typically middle class background. 

It may be a bit jarring to have all those labels out in the open, but that’s what the “norm” has been up until more recent years, when the White Australia policy and barriers into “men’s work” were first starting to be dismantled in the 1940s.

However, just because those barriers and laws were lifted, it didn’t mean an open and equal playing field. There was a lot of push back because of preconceived biases, many of which still persist today. This brings us to our next point.


What is privilege?

Privilege is one of those terms that many of us have heard ad nauseum in recent years, but it bears explaining.

Let’s take a look at our generalised Australian “traditional man”: He’s a white, cisgender, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied, Christian man who came from an English-speaking upbringing and (at least) middle class background. 

Historically, he’s the prime candidate for any role, as he’s the only one an employer would have considered prior to 1942. 

Every label we’ve attached to the “traditional man” is a privilege.


You came from an English-speaking upbringing? You have privilege.

You identify with the gender your were assigned at birth? You have privilege.

You’re white? You have privilege.

And so on and so forth.


Having privilege does not mean that you’re not hard-working. 

It’s also nothing to be ashamed of. 

It’s just part of your identity and how our society perceives you, thanks to years of preconceived biases.

However, it is important to acknowledge if you have privilege and how you can use your privilege to make your workplace a more inclusive environment. (Reading this article is a great start!)


What is inclusion?

One major downfall of diversity in the workplace is the teething period. Diversity doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes even longer to make your workplace inclusive.

Inclusion means actively working to both dismantle biases and discrimination, whilst making your workplace a safe and accessible space for all current and future employees, clients, stakeholders and suppliers. 

It also leads to a number of benefits for your business and overall team culture, such as:

  • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry average.
  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 x more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry average.
  • Employees being 19x more likely to be very satisfied with your job than workers in non-inclusive teams, according to the Diversity Council of Australia (DCA).
  • Employees being 4x likely to stay with your company. (DCA)
  • According to the Harvard Business Review, teams solve problems up to 3x faster when they’re more cognitively diverse.


So, how do we get from diversity to inclusion?

As mentioned above, hiring for diversity is oftentimes synonymous with quotas, whether they’re real or perceived.

In fact, quotas are often useless unless you have a “critical mass” of 40 per cent. 

The idea is that once traditionally marginalised people have gained “critical mass” in an organisation, it allows people to feel comfortable speaking out about issues that affect them and speak freely about their ideas without feeling like they’re only there to hit a “quota.”

For example, when Norway imposed a 40% quota for women on leadership boards, there was a strong negative reaction. However, after a period of transition, these directors realised that their fears were unfounded and that having more women on boards improved their overall governance and decision making. 

In other words, including more women on these boards, marginalisation became more difficult.  


According to the Harvard Business Review, it comes down to two reasons: 

  1. Increased contact with individuals from diverse backgrounds and identities.
  2. Increased transparency — As soon as it becomes clear that senior management is keeping their eye on diversity in their company, it creates social accountability. Namely, when people have to explain their decisions, they are less likely to act on bias.

Building upon these two reasons, here are some actionable steps to attaining inclusion in your workplace:


Expand your search

The more diverse your candidate pool is, the more likely you’ll hire more diversely, naturally. 

The best way to achieve this is through targeted recruiting.

Targeted recruiting does not mean actively seeking out candidates who come from ‘diverse’ backgrounds or identities for the role you’re hiring for. It means building a talent pool by actively seeking candidates who come from ‘diverse’ backgrounds and identities.

It’s about shifting the focus from searching for candidates of diverse backgrounds for a particular role to having an existing diverse database to find active and passive candidates who may be interested in the role.

Through actively targeting individuals who historically did not have privilege to build a diverse talent pool before hiring, you’re able to gain access to a broader network of people with similar skill sets, and different points of views and soft skills.

This allows your talent pool to grow naturally, in terms of diversity, and will improve your company’s chances of hiring someone from diverse backgrounds and identities. 


Analyse your word choice

One of the ways you can expand your search to be more inclusive is analysing what words you’re using to describe the advertised role.

Social scientists at the University of Waterloo and Duke University found that job ads in male-dominated fields tended to masculine-coded words more than job ads in female-dominated fields, making these job ads less appealing to women.

LinkedIn reported in their 2018 Gender Insights Report that women actually applied to 20 per cent fewer jobs than men, however, they were 18 per cent more likely to get hired when they apply.

While it’s illegal to outrightly discriminate, we, as a society, still associate male and female genders with certain qualities unconsciously. Taking the time to run your ad through a gender decoder is a great way to make sure that your vocabulary is balanced to attract all genders.


Focus on performance objectives, not requirements

Another way you can expand your search to be more inclusive is through focusing on performance objectives, not required qualifications.

Many job ads nowadays will focus on the qualifications the employer perceives as necessary to the job. 

But, are they actually necessary to the role? Are these skills that can be taught on the job? Will these qualifications actually help your company solve its business need (the role you’re hiring for)?

Oftentimes, your ‘required’ qualifications are actually stopping qualified people from applying. A Hewlett Packard internal report shows that men apply for a job when they meet only 60 per cent of the qualifications, but women apply only when they meet 100 per cent of the qualifications.

Your required ‘qualification’ may also have a financial barrier (i.e. a certification, University degree, access to a car, etc.), an unnecessary physical barrier (i.e. a receptionist needing to be able to lift up to 12 kilos), or an intellectual barrier (i.e. traditional schooling may not be accessible to someone who has an intellectual disability).

Outline what the performance objectives are, and let your candidate decide how they will achieve those objectives. After all, there is no roadmap to innovation.

Of course, if your company doesn’t have the time or resources to create diverse talent pools of highly qualified professionals, be sure to reach out to our specialist consultants to learn more about how we can help source for your role.


Expand your leadership team

Representation matters.

Imagine being a woman, and consistently seeing all-male leadership at your company. Or being part of an ethnic minority and consistently seeing an all white leadership team. Imagine being part of the LGBT+ community; diversely abled; from a different national; etc.

If your employees don’t see or hear people “like them” in a position of power, they won’t be as motivated or strive for promotions. They will be less likely to speak up about ideas or issues they may have, and less likely to stay with your company long term.

Having people from diverse backgrounds and identities as part of your leadership also increases transparency and social accountability. After all, the best way to lead is by example!

A diverse leadership team also extends beyond the office, as it gives your company access to a number of networks — both professional and personal — that you might not have had access to otherwise. 


Provide support

Whilst broadening your search for all levels of employees is important, it’s also important to provide support for all members of your team.

This can be through your average, everyday conversation amongst colleagues, or through updating policies to facilitate inclusion.

Some simple ways to provide support to current and future employees from diverse backgrounds include but are not limited to:


Checking personal biases

Whether you recognise them or not, we all have personal biases. Take the time to challenge what you think of certain groups of people through learning about what issues that group of people are facing and how that might play into how they act or how their culture perceives things.

Often, our biases come from a lack of knowledge or understanding. No one is born knowing and understanding everything, so taking the time to learn another culture or other identities will help us understand why we may have had biases toward that group in the first place and where we need to be more mindful in our interpersonal relationships.

It’s also important to be mindful that if you’re learning about another culture or identity, it’s often because you come from a point of privilege. While you may gain empathy, you don’t live that experience every day. You have the ability to ‘sign off’ at the end of your learning session — someone from that community doesn’t have that opportunity.

Take this into consideration when speaking to someone from another culture of identity to ensure that you’re not delegitimizing or talking over their lived experience.


Calling it out

Use your knowledge, understanding and privilege to call out discriminatory behaviour that may otherwise be swept under the rug. This shows colleagues and employees that your company is actively making your workplace an inclusive, safe space for people of all backgrounds and identities.

You do not need to be a member of that community to call something out. 

For instance, if you’re a male employee and a male colleague makes a joke about a female colleague getting ahead by flirting with senior management at lunch — use your privilege to make a point that it was actually because of her hard work and persistence. Even if the comment was made as a “joke” (as they often are), let them know that it’s not funny. 

While you may receive some grumbling about “not having a sense of humour,” you’re also sending a clear signal to female colleagues that their hard work is valued, and a clear signal to male colleagues that this type of behaviour is not welcome at the office.

It’s also important to acknowledge if you got something wrong. Take the time to learn more about the issue you’ve been called out on, and don’t expect that individual to give you all the information you need. Apologise, and take the opportunity to learn.

Of course, not everyone feels comfortable calling out a colleague, so be sure to have a policy in place where employees can communicate to HR either personally or anonymously, and work toward having the issue resolved.


Tone policing

Building upon this idea of using your privilege to call out discriminatory behaviour, it’s also important to understand that it’s also a privilege to have your voice heard with a degree of respect.

A prime example of this is tone policing. Tone policing is when a person is being censored about how they’re saying something, as opposed to listening to what that person is saying. It’s putting your emotions ahead of those of a marginalised person.

For instance, a trans employee may have requested on multiple occasions that their coworkers to use they/them pronouns. When they were repeatedly ignored by a particular coworker, they were frustrated and spoke firmly with them to respect their pronouns. The particular coworker then reported them for workplace bullying for raising their voice at them. 

When situations where a marginalised employee voices an issue in an “emotional” way, consider what they’re saying as opposed to how they’re saying it. It can be incredibly frustrating to have to constantly explain your experience or existence to someone who does not want to understand.

While they may not have expressed this in a way that “keeps the peace” in the office, it’s also putting the emotions of the ‘privileged’ individual in the office above those of the trans employee who’s feeling victimised in the workplace — which is hardly a peaceful resolution.

That being said, there are some instances where an individual’s tone is inappropriate in a corporate setting. For instance, if a person in the leadership team is being condescending to an employee or if an employee is yelling at another employee about something they did wrong professionally in front of the entire office.

The best way to deem whether it’s tone policing by asking them to rephrase in a more constructive way is by listening to the message being delivered, consider any power dynamics that might be at play, and understand where that individual might be coming from.


Parental Leave policies

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 90 per cent of Australians believe that men should be as involved in parenting as women. But, men are more likely than women to have parental leave requests denied.

To make your workplace more inclusive to young families, consider changing your maternity leave policy to a parental leave policy.

Not only does it give parents the autonomy to not be restricted to gender norms, it’s also more inclusive to adoptive and/or LGBTQI+ parents, who otherwise may have to negotiate parental leave with their company or use their sick days or annual leave to spend time with their new family member.


Flexibility policies

In the same vein, having a flexible workplace policy is also more inclusive to employees who are parents, diversely abled, etc.

By allowing your employees the opportunity to work remotely, when possible, or to have flexible work hours, it shows that your company is dedicated to the health and wellbeing of your employees and their families. This improves retention rates, productivity and overall employee happiness.


Expect some discomfort

Doing inclusion work isn’t always smooth sailing.

However, if you truly want to create an inclusive environment for all your current and future employees, you have to be willing to shake things up a little bit.

Remember to actually listen to what people from marginalised communities are saying and to use that information to better support them and create policies that will support them.


For more tips and tricks on how to make a more inclusive environment for your current and future employees, or access to a diverse talent pool of highly qualified professionals, be sure to reach out to one of our specialist recruitment consultants today!



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