Anyone who knows me or follows my work will also know that the equality, diversity and inclusion landscape is constantly changing and businesses that take their inclusion responsibilities seriously need to be agile to meet that challenge.
Recently, I was talking to the HR business partner of a global blue chip about what her organisation needed to do to enable its workforce to engage better with the day-to-day EDI issues that are an inevitable part of life within a large, matrix company.
As the conversation developed, it became clear that what she was really trying to work out was how her team and the organisation’s leadership team could improve workplace knowledge about EDI and, in doing that, enable their people to tackle related issues with confidence.
As we batted ideas and observations back and forth, I became increasingly aware that we were speaking a language that was almost certainly different to one that many employees – wherever they happened to work – probably wouldn’t recognise and would probably struggle to understand.
We talked about ‘microaggressions’, ‘allyship’, ‘POC’, ‘gender expression’, ‘code-switching’, and more.
And the more we talked, the more I came to understand that if we’re expecting people to understand that language without any help, then we’re probably setting ourselves up to fail in what we’re trying to achieve.
Because the irony of the language of inclusion is that it can often be perceived as exclusive.
As a native English speaker, imagine, for a moment, being told you were expected to learn Spanish in order to be able to do your job to the standard expected of you by your employer.
Quite reasonably, you’d expect your employer to provide you with the tools to be successful, wouldn’t you? After all, isn’t that pretty much the definition of equity in the context of inclusion?
Now imagine you’re expected to learn Spanish (or any other language) without having lessons. That would be daunting, to say the very least.
If you were surrounded by enough people speaking Spanish all the time, the likelihood is you would eventually pick it up enough to be fluent when you needed to be – just as you’d pick up the language of EDI if enough people spoke it to you enough of the time.
But it would take exponentially longer than if you had regular, structured lessons – and the chances are, you’d be less fluent, too.
So, it became clear to me that one simple thing that businesses can do to help their employees take the inclusion learning journey is to help them to understand its language.
We need to take the time to explain to people what we mean when we talk about microaggressions, or POC, or code-switching – and if some of the terminology I’ve used here has had you reaching for Google, then that’s probably a flag that your own organisation isn’t doing as much as you think it is to be inclusive on inclusion.
It’s already hard enough to get people to engage confidently with EDI. There is understandable nervousness around being curious, because curiosity not only risks killing the cat, it also risks killing careers.
Let’s be clear, though. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use appropriate terminology within the EDI environment. I’m only saying that just because we might understand what we’re saying, we shouldn’t expect everyone else to have the same level of understanding.
Neither is this a clarion rallying call for you to suddenly start putting mandatory EDI training into your employees’ calendars, or to book EDI workshops (although they can be really useful in exploding the myths of inclusion and helping to foster improved knowledge).
What I am advocating for is an approach to enabling internal conversations about inclusion by starting at the beginning.
What are you doing to allow your teams to understand the language you use? Have you provided any training? Does your employee handbook include a section on EDI as a distinct and important topic? Do you even have an employee handbook?
Many companies I deal with are launching or developing really interesting initiatives in this space.
These range from neurodiversity networking coffee mornings, where neurotypical employees can participate in and be guided through conversations that open up topics that may be wrongly considered taboo, to sharing lived experiences in immersive storytelling.
It’s okay to expect your employees to get on board with your EDI targets and ambitions. Just don’t expect them to do it if you haven’t communicated your intentions clearly and if you haven’t offered any help.
Contact us for information on how you can have meaningful and brave conversations about EDI.