What constitutes an authentic approach to diversity?
Diversity is more than colorful stock photos or another revenue generator. Rather, the way diversity is handled shows the authenticity and sense of responsibility of a company. But what can a differentiated and relaxed approach look like, and what are the implications for HR?
Diversity, inclusion, gender stars and political correctness are fighting words for some and triggers for others. The topic and the right way to deal with diversity are an integral part of current social debates. It was therefore only a matter of time before companies also had to deal with this phenomenon.
The fact that we have to deal with diversity and inclusion so often at all already makes the fundamental problem visible: Many population groups are, or at least feel, disadvantaged and discriminated against.¹ Gender inequality is most prominent, which is quite understandable given the number of people affected. However, it is important to recognise that factors such as ethnicity, age or disability can also be a determining factor. These are affiliations that are impossible or difficult to change.²
The complexity of the problem and the different terms that are sometimes used synonymously or without sharp distinction in the debate make a common understanding difficult. Basically, diversity and inclusion describe the understanding and conscious handling of diversity and aim at equal opportunities, namely equal access to opportunities and resources, as well as equality.³
Discrimination has a negative impact on all areas of life. Those affected suffer psychologically and physically from the effects and are impaired in their way of life.⁴ It should be borne in mind that certain factors due to which people are disadvantaged affect us all and are always part of our own lives.
But equality is more than just preventing the negative consequences of discrimination. What we should be concerned with at the core is the empowerment of each individual to be able to develop their own potential. To achieve this, established power structures must be loosened and barriers broken down, whether in the mind or in practice. Only if members of disadvantaged groups are not forced into role expectations and have equal opportunities will sustainable diversity flourish, from which companies can also benefit in the long term.
Diverse teams, for example, where creativity and innovation are required, perform better than homogeneous teams.⁵ With diversity, companies can prevent complex issues from always being viewed from the same narrow perspective and benefit from a change of perspective. Moreover, in the face of an ageing population and skills shortages, companies need to ensure fair access to work in order to remain attractive employers for all talent.
So what does this mean for HR? The first thing to realise is that HR has countless touchpoints on discrimination and diversity issues and can pull out all the stops to effect lasting change. Depending on the industry, the size of the company, and, above all, the target group of the measures, the need for action naturally differs. But general process equity is indispensable to establish equal opportunities, because along the entire employee life cycle and even before that, there are manifestations of subconscious and structural discrimination.
Often the pitfalls of our entrenched patterns become apparent even before we come into personal contact with the person being discriminated against. For example, if job advertisements are written in the generic masculine form, fewer women apply for the vacant position than if both genders are mentioned.⁶ The myth that women are "included" in the generic masculine does not stand up to critical scrutiny.⁷ We need to recognise when a linguistic form fosters discriminatory behaviour. For language not only depicts reality, but also constructs it. One approach to this problem, you might guess, is to use an inclusive form of language. This helps to reduce stereotyping.⁸ Even small decisions can make a big difference in our minds.
In addition to designing HR processes, we need to take a self-critical look at our own thought processes. Because at the end of the day, there is a human being behind every decision. Research suggests that, on average, women's CVs are rated lower than men's, while their qualifications remain the same.⁹ People with an immigrant background are also strongly affected by this discrimination. Despite having the same qualifications, they are less likely to be invited for interviews than people without a migration background.¹⁰ In very few cases, this is due to a consciously pejorative attitude, but can be traced back to implicit associations that no human being is immune to.¹¹ For this reason, it is important to make people aware of these subconscious biases by means of training and workshops and to reduce perceptual distortions. However, the greatest lever for change is and remains the corporate culture. This is shaped by the lived corporate values and leaders but is ultimately a factor that is shaped by all employees. That is why diversity and inclusion can never be delegated or completed as a project but demands constant rethinking from all of us.
New ways require courage. But sometimes it is precisely these courageous decisions by individuals and companies that actively address social problems. If one knows that the educational chances of certain social classes are worse¹², it can be a courageous and worthwhile step to give those concerned a chance and not just to look at degrees from elite universities.
Precisely because of all the differences, the "we" of an organisation must not be lost sight of. We can discover how much potential there is if we see ourselves not just as individuals, but as part of a greater whole.
³ Sander et al. (2012). Diversity Management als Veränderungsprozess.
⁴ Schmitt et al. (2014). The consequences of perceived discrimination for psychological well-being: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 921–948. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035754
⁵ Schneider, J. & Eckl, V. (2016). The difference makes a difference: Team diversity and innovative capacity. https://www.oecd.org/sti/015%20-%20SKY_Schneider_Eckl_201607025.pdf
⁶ Gaucher et al. (2011). Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101, 109-128. https://ideas.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Gaucher-Friesen-Kay-2011.pdf
⁷ Nübling, D. (2018). Und ob das Genus mit dem Sexus. Genus verweist nicht nur auf Geschlecht, sondern auch auf die Geschlechterordnung. https://ids-pub.bsz-bw.de/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/7874/file/Nuebling_Und_ob_das_Genus_mit_dem_Sexus_2018.pdf
⁸ Sczesny et al. (2016). Can gender-fair language reduce gender stereotyping and discrimination? Front. Psychol. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00025/full
⁹ Kübler et al. (2017). Be a Man or Become a Nurse: Comparing Gender Discrimination by Employers across a Wide Variety of Professions. https://www.wzb.eu/de/pressemitteilung/frauen-werden-bei-der-ausbildungssuche-diskriminiert
Published: 25. May 2021