Suzy Levy on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Suzy Levy is a specialist in delivering complex global change programmes and Managing Director at The Red Plate. Combining her business transformation experience and a deep understanding of human behaviour, she works with leadership teams to drive cultural change and deliver measurable inclusion & diversity results.
Diversity is what makes us unique. At its core, it’s what makes us different from other human beings, despite having 99.9% of the same DNA. Inclusion is the process by which allow all that difference to flourish, and ensure that regardless of what sex we are, which gender we identify with, who we love or what the colour of our skin may be, we have equal opportunity to thrive.
Diversity is messy...
Exploring diversity can create joy, wonder and positive energy. But it’s not all sunshine and roses – exploring diversity is also messy. It’s messy because there is no coherent answer to what diversity is - where it starts or where it ends. Whether diversity is seen as good, or bad, is often coloured by our own personal views. Diversity is messy because there are no simple solutions and we are making it up as we go along. Our knowledge and awareness are evolving as we evolve which means we often get diversity interventions wrong, despite having good intentions. When we overemphasise difference, or we pit one group against another, we have the potential to drive resentment, frustration and division. It’s also messy because within and between diverse groups there are often competing belief systems.
Workplace diversity programmes often neglect to cater for the complexity of diversity in the world at large. Race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion and mental health are some of the most human and complex issues of our time. They manifest in exponential ways in the world outside of work, and play a key role in our everyday lives, in our communities and cultures. But, in the workplace, we look at diversity in an extremely limited way and we fail to answer some of the most fundamental questions diversity throw our way.
Do I need to be a bitch to make it to the top? How can we ever hope to address gender inequality when we can barely speak about the misogyny, harassment, abuse and sexual violence that happens to women and girls every day? Should I use the word Black to describe someone, or will I offend them? How is it possible to be born a girl, but then one day live as a man? Does our focus on helping women rise mean we have to limit the possibilities for men?
The path to inclusion
The path to inclusion requires answering some tough questions. Even the most basic question, ‘Diverse from what?’ has the propensity to divide. It requires understanding why men, and why white men in particular, do proportionally better than others. To answer the question ‘why doesn’t diversity happen naturally?’ requires looking at some of our base assumptions. Is it that ‘we’ are biased? Or are ‘they’ not good enough? Thinking about diversity forces us to challenge why some groups systematically rise to the top of our society and others don’t. While some of us would like to think that we all rise based on our own ‘merit’, focusing on diversity forces us to look at fairness and equality, something in which most of us believe deeply but of which we also remain blissfully ignorant. We question fairness when we feel we are being wronged or treated unfairly, but most of us don’t consciously seek to understand if we are contributing to the unfairness of others.
The answers we find in this space can threaten our most basic instincts. In order to create a more inclusive world for others, do we have to give up power, advantage and opportunity? In embracing inclusion, do we put ourselves at a disadvantage? If we are in one of the groups who have been advantaged up to this point, is it our turn to sit in the inequality chair?
Overcoming our hesitation, and our over-reliance on being ‘nice’
I meet a lot of people who care about inclusion but hesitate to engage. Whether their reluctance is because they believe being a nice person is enough, they lack the skills to know what action to take, or they fear the cost of getting it wrong, the gap in diversity capability and confidence is palpable. When it comes to inclusion and diversity most of us are making it up as we go along. In a fast-paced and attention-seeking society, after a quick Google or Ted Talk most of us know enough to get by but very few of us have a genuine depth of understanding. And why should we? There was no course at school. There was no 101 for race relations, no syllabus for unpicking institutional racism, reversing the effects of unconscious bias, combatting homophobia or everyday sexism. In the workplace we often cram diversity learning into short e-learning modules. But how effective is any static course at helping us change behaviours in a space which is complex, fractious and underpinned by deeply embedded social norms?
Let’s face it, although most of us are curious about diversity, and some would go so far as to call ourselves allies, very few of us are skilled in inclusion. Instead, we double down on being nice and hope it will be enough. In the absence of skills in this space, we allow our moral compasses and our instincts towards kindness to ground us. But these very honourable traits may harm as much as they help.
The role of everyday people
I used to think I was ‘inclusive’ but the reality is, I had no idea what inclusion even was. How can anyone be good at something when they don’t fully understand what it is they are trying to be good at? It took me more than a decade of working in the diversity space to understand that inclusion is not the same thing as being nice. I get the desire to be nice. Choosing sides is not fun. It can be disruptive and upsetting. The fact is that people who champion diversity can be annoying. Trust me, I am one of them and even I have the propensity to annoy myself. We are annoying because of the passion we have for the subject. We are annoying because we cannot let it go and sometimes it seeps into almost every aspect of our lives. Let’s face it, talking about racial inequality, social injustice, suicide or sexual harassment is a great way to kill a dinner party buzz.
But if we are to find a way forward and unpick this diversity mess that we find ourselves in we need to engage in conversations which may move us from the comfortable place being nice affords us and thrust us into the uncomfortable. We need everyday people to have knowledge, capability and the confidence to take a meaningful role in shaping an inclusive future. That’s why I chose to write Mind the Inclusion Gap – how good allies can move from talking diversity to taking action.
Mind the Inclusion Gap is for anyone who wants to dive into the complex task of supporting diversity. It’s filled with practical know-how and thoughtful ideas on how we can navigate the polarised and divisive issues we face in the workplace and in the world. You can find out more about the book and join me on the journey at: https://unbound.com/books/inclusion.
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