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Practitioner's viewpoint Oct/Nov 19

18 September 2019

We are moving in the right direction when it comes to diversity in the workplace, but Louise Ward points out that there is still much to be done.

It’s really positive to see an ever increasing awareness and dialogue around the topic of diversity and inclusion. There is much research and anecdotal evidence to confirm that organisations are most successful when they include a varied and diverse workforce, offering a wide range of skills and experience. Not so very long ago race, gender, religion, disability and LGBT issues were taboo subjects not widely discussed or debated in society or in the workplace. Recent years have seen really positive change, and whilst there is still much to be done to establish true equality in the UK, at least there is now open discussion, clear positive intention and a drive to keep things moving forwards.

More recently we have started to see open discussion about mental health and wellbeing. A new focus on openness and honesty is dispelling some of the stigma traditionally associated with such matters, and promoting improved understanding about the importance of open conversation. We all experience fluctuations in our mental wellbeing just as we do in our physical health, but it doesn’t necessarily exhibit obvious symptoms in the way that physical illness or injury does, and can therefore be very isolating. However, the signs are there, and by increasing awareness and promoting open conversation we can help to make sure that everyone gets support when they need it.

There are of course other, less obvious, components to the diversity and inclusion agenda. Thinking, learning and communication styles are also important areas for discussion. There is much research to suggest that we all have ‘natural’ preferences in these important areas, but often feel compelled to behave differently in order to ‘fit in’ to a group or situation. In fact the research suggests that groups are more effective when members exhibit a variety of styles, as these tend to compliment each other and promote a rounded overall approach. However, there are situations which are naturally attractive, or indeed daunting, to people with a particular style preference. Improved understanding and self -awareness can help to people to manage this effectively. 

Psychologists have developed a variety of profiling tools to help people understand their own natural styles, and indeed to identify the style preferences of others, facilitating awareness and adaptation, to promote collaboration and effectiveness. Organisations increasingly use these to assist during recruitment, but they can be really effective tools for both personal and team development too, as they help people to understand and value their natural instincts, whilst also developing strategies to help them collaborate with people who have a different style.

The concept of neurodiversity takes this a stage further, promoting the view that neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia, should be accepted and discussed as part of the diversity and inclusion agenda. Traditionally treated as ‘disabilities’ and attracting a certain stigma, the movement suggests that we need to recognise and value the traits associated with such conditions, as these allow people to fulfil vital functions in business and society.

There is no doubt at all that we’re all different. Some of our characteristics are hard wired in our DNA, others are the product of culture, experiences, choices, opportunities or even situations outside of our control. But it’s great to see a growing awareness of the benefits of diversity here in the UK, and an understanding that people perform best when they’re able to relax and be themselves. Self-awareness, open conversation, acceptance and valuing of difference, all have the potential to empower individuals, teams, organisations and communities to achieve success and wellbeing.

However, there’s still a long way to go if we are to offer everyone true equality of opportunity. Most organisations now have diversity and inclusion policies that cover physical characteristics, but few yet cover matters such as psychological characteristics and neurodiversity, and by omitting these important areas we are missing out on an opportunity to recognise the value of difference and the contribution that this can make to collective success.

So, there’s still lots of scope for further improvement in this important area, and I hope you will all commit to doing your part to support this work.

Louise Ward is the health, safety and environment director at Siemens. For more information visit, www.siemens.com/mobility