More Walk Than Talk Needed For Diversity With Inclusion In The Workplace


Business leaders have been speaking out in support of addressing racism in the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations that have been occurring across North America since the spring.

Through emails and social media, many organizations called on employees to address racism, take action to come together, listen and make the workplace more inclusive, not just diverse, as part of the company strategy and goals.

But, are organizations walking their talk?

Organizations have made great strides with diversity but still lag behind in inclusion. Racialized and other underrepresented groups still face barriers in the workforce resulting from systemic discrimination.

Systemic discrimination is a powerful force that impedes organizational success. Unlike direct discrimination, which involves intentional behaviour where individuals are treated negatively based on stereotype, systemic discrimination stems from policies and practices that are part of organizational structures.

Systemic discrimination creates invisible barriers that are difficult to detect.

The current situation presents a great opportunity to make the workforce inclusive and not just diverse. Organizations have the opportunity to hire and promote more people from racialized and other underrepresented groups once the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many organizations still face challenges in taking action. Dr. June Francis, associate professor, marketing/business and society/innovation and entrepreneurship at the Simon Fraser University Beedie School of Business, said, “Organizations are based on certain people. They try to hold onto the benefits for the same people. They respond to extraordinary events and not small events.”

Discrimination, exclusion and harassment are a systemic problem.

Leaders talk about what they are going to do differently. They need to develop ongoing action plans to make their words more effective. Moving beyond diversity is a long process and each organization is different. Leaders need to rethink how they engage employees and respond to their experiences.

Here are some steps organizations can take to eliminate systemic discrimination.

Step 1: Find Your Why

Determine why diversity with inclusion initiatives are important, the challenges your business face and how diversity and inclusion fit into the company mission.

Examine how the organization operates by looking at all policies and practices, how teams work, the way CVs are evaluated, how people are hired and who is hired, trained, evaluated and promoted, and how they reflect diverse inclusion.

Step 2: Identify the Organization’s Diversity and Inclusion Challenges

There is a gap between what leaders think and what employees say about what happens in organizations.

To identify challenges, conduct optional surveys and interviews with all employees on issues they see and what diversity and inclusion means to them.

Based on employees’ feedback, audit all human resources processes and let senior leaders know you are building a business case so they become aware and support you.

Seek senior leadership buy-in and anticipate leaders’ concerns such as budgets and timelines.

Step 3: Develop a Strategic Action Plan

Organizations need to develop a strategic action plan with long and short-term goals for inclusion and action to reach these goals. Goals must include an inclusive organizational culture with emphasis on a barrier-free work environment and a workforce reflecting the diverse communities the organization serves.

The plan must focus on inclusive leadership that provides a safe environment where employees can express ideas and viewpoints and be heard, acts on advice of diverse employees and fosters collaboration.

The plan must outline what changes are needed. Francis said, “Dismantle policies and practices that have been there. Change how we hire, train and promote people, how we listen, and how meetings are run.”

Step 4: Be Aware of Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is unintentional judgements or decisions based on prior experiences, beliefs and stereotypes beyond control and awareness. Qualified candidates are often overlooked because they are not like the manager or group.

Provide training on how people are impacted by unconscious bias and how their actions reinforce unconscious bias. Help employees understand how cultural differences impact how they interact and work and encourage them to question their own biases.

Step 5: Communicate

Spread the word about the benefits of diversity with inclusion.

Develop communication channels that provide ongoing feedback, share information, resources and stories, and allow employees to discuss their concerns with leadership.

Step 6: Go Beyond the Network

Business leaders and management have relied on social networks and personal connections to fill leadership positions. Networks have been widely known as a source of exclusion of underrepresented groups.

“Networks are a protective layer that supports organizations based on white privilege. They are hard to break and you have to know someone to get in,” Francis said. Such networks include private sports and social clubs that have been traditionally associated with white privilege.

“Business leaders must realize that underrepresented groups have networks, shift focus to them and allow them to have the privilege of the network.”

Closing Thoughts

A diverse inclusive workplace is not just about opportunities for employment or race, creed, gender, sexual orientation and disabilities. It is where employees feel safe to be who they are and that different experiences, opinions, perspectives, values and ways of solving problems and making decisions are appreciated rather than seen as something that gets in the way.



Lindsay Macintosh, CPHR, CPM, has over 20 years’ experience in the recreation/entertainment, non-profit, retail, construction, foodservice and logging industries. Her expertise includes payroll/benefits, HR strategies and policies, full-cycle recruiting and employee relations. She holds a BA (Hons) from Queen’s University.

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