A colleague recently sharing an exceptional article about a visionary man, eBay’s Chief Diversity Officer, Damien Hooper Campbell. Damien takes a bold and refreshing look about diversity and inclusion (D&I) and challenges us to think about it in a different way. Once you’ve read the article, you’ll realise how we have compartmentalised, “proceduralised” and turned what should be a positive and embracing cultural approach into a box ticking exercise. Damien challenges us to make it personal, make it meaningful to the culture of the company and put ourselves into the shoes of someone who is on the outside. This got me thinking. As Co-Chair for Mercer’s UK LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* and our Allies) UK chapter, I carry a responsibility to drive forward a culture of openness and inclusion, celebrating the vast diversity of colleagues and ensuring that everyone feels respected, treated fairly and part of the team. If I reflect on how well I represent the true sense of D&I, I know there is at least one step I can personally take to do better.
There’s 2 sides to why we need D&I – on the one hand, there are people who feel left out, excluded, not integrated or marginalised – “the outsiders”. On the other hand, there’s also people who are excluding, leaving out, not integrating or marginalising others – “the insiders”. We put a lot of labels on the former group – LGBTQ, women, BAME, disabled, disadvantaged. In some cultures, such as on the Indian sub-continent, a whole infrastructure of classification was built up to “rank” society, from the Brahmins all the way down to the “untouchable” dalits. In Western cultures, we labeled people by class (upper, middle, working), imposing our value system on other cultures in the colonial era.
Legislation and education have gone a long way to breaking down these silos – although there is still much work to do. We now talk about unconscious bias as a mechanism to help us further address such perceptions. Mercer offers a very useful training course to any employee, which helps us understand and accept our unconscious bias, and through a scoring mechanism, helps us take action. For me, if I reflect on a natural human behaviour that I need to be really mindful of, and to stop me from behaving like an “insider”, it’s judging others.
When I was young, I have many uncomfortable memories of being or feeling judged. Judged on the fact that I was gay, judged on how well I performed academically, judged on how fit or popular, I was, judged on how fat or thin I was. It was always uncomfortable. Fast forward a couple of decades and I now find it’s me who is judging others. Whilst I know we all do it, I can’t help but wonder if this act of judging is really damaging for D&I. Looking at people on the train to work, commenting on a colleague’s work, criticising celebrities or gossiping about acquaintances – these small acts often serve to pigeon-hole someone, and potentially make them an outsider.
If we paused and reflected on what we were thinking or saying about someone, we might realise that the way we are behaving now will make someone else feel the way we felt when we were judged. It’s a hard habit to break – I’m far from perfect, but I feel like this is something that I would like to do differently. As a result, I think it will help me become a better person, so I am going to try and stop judging others.
On reading the article I mentioned earlier, Damien challenges us to take back D&I from it’s stuffy language and tick box procedures, and make it human. We’ve started taking bold steps at Mercer, like our “Let’s Talk About Race” events that are gaining momentum. But to really achieve diversity and inclusion in the work place, we need to make it human again. Perhaps, like me, you might focus on judging people less, or you might have another area you want to focus on. By being open and honest about what I’m going to do to help humanise D&I, I hope I’ll inspire a few more people to also take action. So what are you going to do?