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When the world falls apart we have the opportunity to build a new one

When the world falls apart we have the opportunity to build a new one

This blog is part of the series 'Fee's Experience': Our intern Fee shines a light on her experience doing an internship at Great Place to Work Belgium during these turbulent times.

The past couple of weeks I got to discover the functioning of Great Place to Work®. By learning how to score Culture Audits©, I’m slowly becoming more familiar with the different themes and practices that make an organisation a Great Workplace.

One of those themes is Diversity & Inclusion, a hot topic today. As a curious intern, questions then rarose in my mind: how can organisations create a culture of trust where everyone feels at home? Do employees dare to be themselves in the workplace? Are companies not only a Great Place to Work but above all a Great Place to Work for All? As a part of this topic, the Great Place to Work® team organised a Network Session where Smaranda Boros, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Vlerick Business School, came to explain her research on Diversity & Inclusion and why the crisis we are faced with today makes this an even more important topic!

“Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it”. This quote was the opening message of Smaranda’s presentation and will certainly stick in my head for a long time. The idea behind it is that if one wants to tackle the problems around Diversity & Inclusion one has to start by accepting and acknowledging the history around discrimination. This history ranges from slavery and colonies to portraying women as needy human beings in advertising. It impacts us all and by consequence it influences the way organisations deal with diversity and inclusion. Often, especially in Europe, we tend to play down the issues. ‘We don’t have a specific approach because we already treat everyone equally’ organisations tend to say. However, when we dig a bit deeper, companies realise that unconsciously biases and stereotypes have creeped into their way of thinking and the way colleagues deal with each other.

An, often well-intended, first step is that companies start working on their recruitment policies and hire people with more diverse demographics in the hope of creating an inclusive work environment. Smaranda explains that this intuitive tactic will not lead to the desired outcome. For an effective diversity & inclusion policy, the start lies with an inclusion intervention. Her clear message would be: ‘start to clean the mess inhouse first otherwise you are just window dressing’. The idea behind this is that without a high trust culture of inclusion, where everyone can contribute, diversity is a farce. If employees feel completely at home in the workplace and feel that the organisation accepts them for who they are, diversity will come automatically as a ripple effect. Word of mouth will ensure that the organisation is known as a company that gives support to ethnic minorities, that has employees with a wide age range, that is easily accessible for disabled people, that encourage employees from the LGBTQ+ community, ... More diverse applicants will then come in automatically.

During the difficult Corona-times we have faced the past months, Diversity & Inclusion was put to the test even more. Organisations had to switch to online operations very fast during the lockdown and employees had to endure a lot in terms of flexibility as a result. Smaranda researched the impact of this and found that while juggling work- and home life during these unusual circumstances, it was especially women who, in addition to teleworking, were often given the responsibility of teaching their children at home. It would be naive to think that this does not affect their work-life balance, work engagement and career opportunities for the future. The crisis has certainly taken us a step back in terms of gender equality. Moreover, she asks us during the session, ‘do you have a clear idea of the specific needs of different groups in your organisation, especially now during these strange times?’. A lot of us, can not but admit, we should pay more attention to this!

But! These challenges also have a positive side to them, namely: “when the world falls apart we have the opportunity to build a new one”. During the restart, organisations are given the chance to consider the needs of various types of minority groups. A number of critical questions need to be asked at that moment. For example: does our policy encourage not only mothers but also fathers to take up flexible employment so that they can perform more caring tasks in the house without their careers suffering as a result? If older employees prefer to work from home out of fear of infection, does this affect their performance appraisals? Will people who risk to come to the office more often be more likely to be promoted? Or how do we counteract this proximity bias?

The Network Session opened my eyes and made me think about things in a way I hadn’t before. The current situation can be a fresh start for organisations in terms of Diversity and Inclusion. I am hopeful that many will take on this challenge and that the setback caused by the crisis will result in more attention to Diversity and Inclusion. With any luck it will provide an even greater bounce forward in the future in terms of equality. This presentation of Smaranda has helped me to better understand the theme of Diversity & Inclusion and even to recognize and acknowledge a number of implicit biases within my own thinking. I am thrilled to go through many culture audits to read about how different companies are tackling this theme!