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Diversity, equity and inclusion

Samantha Sango
IT is a common misconception to equate diversity, equity and inclusion (‘DEI’) with race and gender initiatives only. In reality, DEI is much broader than this and seeks to create a fair and equitable living and working environment for all persons, whilst ensuring that people are not penalised for being different. It is about accepting each other’s differences and celebrating the similarities that unite us.

The beauty of complexity in people is that in as much as everyone is unique, people still and will have shared similarities that will bring them together. You can split a room of people into groups based on whether they have children, are from Timbuktu or whether they attended university and each time, there will be shifts in the groups.

At the heart of this initiative is the drive to allow people, regardless of their diversity, to be part of the living and working community, whilst allowing each individual to follow their dreams regarding life choices and be treated fairly based on merit or deeds.

Personally, I believe that at its heart, the concept is simplified in the Biblical instruction, ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

Diversity

Diversity is a statistical concept reflecting the differences and similarities that we have as individuals. The different types of diversity are typically race, gender, age, socio-economic status, religion, race/ethnicity, culture and so on. Some of these are as a result of personal choices, for example religion and some relate to features that you are born with such as race/ethnicity.

Given that this diversity is reflected in the world, the issue arises if workplaces and especially senior leadership teams are not reflective of the diversity that is reflected in the workforce.

A glaring way of reflecting this are statistics such as in the UK in 2019, the likelihood for a Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 Index to be named Stephen/Steve was higher than for this to be a woman. Still in the UK, currently there are no black Chairs/chief executive officers (CEOs)/chief financial officers (CFOs) in the FTSE 100; with minorities only representing just over 3% of these positions.

This is despite the ethnic minorities, comprising around 15% of the workforce. In Zimbabwe, a 2019 study showed that women headed up five out of 60 of the boards of listed companies, representing less than 10% and this clearly does not reflect the statistics associated with the working force gender divide.

Equity

Discussion of equity is very much a sensitive topic because ingrained in its analysis is the explanation of the historical injustices that have resulted in the unfair treatment of minorities, thereby impacting fair access to resources or ability to advance.

Minorities in this instance are still in relation to the ‘diversity types’ listed before, so for example, consider how in the past, it was mostly the boys who had the opportunity to advance to high school compared to girls, despite being in the same family.

In most instances this has had an impact on quality of both earnings and life, resulting in diverging differentials between siblings. However, I need to give a caveat here because there are exceptions where women have still managed to advance in spite of this — Tererai Trent being a case in point. But these are just that, exceptions. And the norm needs to be fair education for all.

Inclusion

In spite of a workplace reflecting diversity and companies introducing initiatives to address equity imbalances, inclusion needs separate consideration.

Inclusion is about catering for everyone’s allergies and preferences after diversity has invited everyone to the meal. This means when having work drinks, which usually involve a wide variety of gin, whisky and lagers, there should also be soft drinks, tea and virgin mojitos.

This consideration is relevant across a range of activities of which the best way to actually cater for this is by building up knowledge of people within teams. This goes beyond tokenism and playing lip service to actually demonstrating the actions behind the initiatives.

One of the lessons for me this year was how to consider colour blind people in emails. A standard email reply is: ‘see responses in red’, but in using colour only to differentiate the text, we make life more complicated for our colour blind colleagues. A better approach to this is to use another differentiator for example, ‘see responses in red and italics’.

When looking at workplaces, some of the questions that need to be addressed are whether the company has considered office access for employees with physical limitations, for example where an employee would need wheelchair access throughout the building; or are there quiet workspaces (or the option for employees to request noise cancelling headphones) for those people who are neurodiverse and unable to work with background noise.

The case for D, E & I

Clearly, the above demonstrates quite a lot of considerations which can feel overwhelming even if the actions are shared between HR departments and managers. However, when you consider the benefits that diversity, equity and inclusion bring to communities, workplaces and companies, this outweighs the pain of the steps to introduce and maintain this in organisations.

If you google D, E & I, you will find study after study proving and demonstrating the benefits of diversity. Some of the benefits that are reflected within diverse companies and workplaces, compared to non-diverse include:

Being a driver for innovation, with diverse teams producing more revenue

Inclusive teams make better business decisions most of the time

Teams that follow an inclusive process make decisions twice as fast with half the meetings

Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered better results

And given the various studies all concluding the same, why would you not ensure you build up a diverse team or friendship circle or work environment, if this ability is within your remit?

Sango is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz) based in the United Kingdom. Icaz is the largest and longest standing professional accounting organisation in Zimbabwe, having been established on January 11, 1918. Icaz provides leadership on the development, promotion and improvement of the accountancy profession focusing in the areas of accounting education, assurance, good governance practices and leadership and organisational excellence. — icazontechnical@icaz.org.zw.

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