Diversity – but on our terms…


In recent months, I have delivered numerous seminars on the topics of diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias. What strikes me is how often I hear people talk of other people’s – or other organisations’ – biases, whilst singularly failing to recognise their own.

I was contacted around 6 months ago by an events manager who had been tasked with organising an unconscious bias speaker for a conference being put on for a group of professional women in a male-dominated corporate organisation. He started off by telling me that he didn’t see why such a conference was necessary, but he would organise it as that was what he was being paid for. (mmm… who chose this event management company?) He then said that I had all the credentials he needed and wanted to book me and what would I charge to attend for the day and speak for 1 hour.

I said I would charge £1500. That is typical of my usual rate for speaking and I know that if he runs an events management company he would be familiar with speaking rates ranging up to as much as £5000 or more. He then said that as it was just a conference for women, he wasn’t interested in paying anything over £500.

Then recently, I was asked to speak at an annual conference. The topic was ‘achieving greater diversity and inclusion’. After everything was agreed, I was then notified that the director responsible had changed his mind, as he only wanted a speaker who had spent their career working within their specific industry.

So, diversity and inclusion… just as long as you are already one of us? Or was it ‘no differences of opinion allowed’ or perhaps it was ‘we’re not prepared to listen or learn from anyone outside our industry’? I think we might call that a myopic approach to diversity.

I also think this sector obsession/snobbery will be the downfall of many organisations as it fails to recognise the value of bringing in truly different opinions and ideas. It doesn’t matter whether you work in the finance, IT, retail or the health industry – people are people, biases are biases, prejudices are prejudices, bullying is bullying and ignorance is ignorance.

Diversity and inclusion issues are not sector specific, they span all sectors and sticking with people for your own profession is a sure fire way to encourage ‘Group Think’, avoidance of the tough issues and far too much tolerance for and acceptance of current practices and behaviours. So what if you lose a little insider knowledge? You will gain enormous value from learning about what others are doing.

Unfortunately, my rant doesn’t end there (!) as on yet another occasion, after an event, someone suggested that she had not listened to what I had said as clearly I did not have the same professional standing as her. She didn’t quite phrase it like that, of course, but essentially it was ‘my profession is more important than yours and I only pay attention when it’s a speaker from within my own profession. No one else has credibility.’

So it was a…‘I’m interested in diversity just as long as everyone looks like me, sounds like me, has the same qualifications as me and who is in the same profession as me’. What incredible ignorance from someone attending a session on diversity and inclusion. Or was I taking her reaction just a tad too far?

For many years, I have talked at Jaluch performance management training, about how many managers recruit for ‘skills’ but then subsequently dismiss for ‘attitude’. So it was with a smile on my face that I came across this quote in The Loudest Duck ‘ We recruit for diversity, but then dismiss for difference’. How true and what an indictment of current diversity practices that whilst applauding and encouraging diversity (and putting a whole pile of hard earned cash into diversity initiatives), we so often reject ‘difference’.

Real diversity is defined as people thinking differently.

If you think your organisation would benefit from diversity and inclusion training, we offer courses that can help you:

  • Retain valued staff
  • Engender great employee relations
  • Attract new talent
  • Address gender and other imbalances at various levels in the organisation
  • Better reflect the diversity of the supplier base
  • Better position themselves for corporate or public sector contracts

For more information on the training we can offer, visit our diversity and inclusion training page.

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