Diversity Myth #3 - ‘No matter what we do, some people will always think they are discriminated against.’
After more than 20 years of working in the field of Diversity and Inclusion, I have come across a whole range of preconceived, often implicit, ideas which stand in the way of making progress towards more inclusive workplaces and societies. An important part of my role is to try to debunk them.
These “myths” may be just that - erroneous ideas and misconceptions - but their effect on individuals, communities and organisations is very real, and detrimental. The more that all of us make a concerted effort to understand our assumptions in relation to Diversity & Inclusion, the greater the likelihood that genuine inclusion for everyone will become a reality.
I have selected a few of the most frequent and harmful ‘diversity myths’ for this article. I expect that some of you might recognise a couple, or even understand some of your own preconceived ideas. If so, I hope that analysis of these commonly held but inaccurate beliefs will help to explain where your assumptions might come from, why they are not backed by evidence, and why it is important for all of us to challenge ourselves on the ideas we perpetuate.
Ultimately, I hope that by surfacing these myths you will be inspired to, with confidence and genuine commitment, promote Diversity & Inclusion.
Myth #3: ‘No matter what we do, some people will always think they are discriminated against.’
It would be a bad use of resources to invest in Diversity & Inclusion initiatives or to otherwise try to tackle injustices if that work made no impact whatsoever on the perceptions of people who are at the receiving end of discrimination. So it’s important to ask ourselves whether there is any point at all in trying to make corporate cultures more inclusive if the changes don’t actually register with the people most directly affected by discrimination.
We have conducted the most authoritative research on this very issue for the British Government (Home Office). Our research found that people from minority groups are NOT invested in thinking that they will always be discriminated against, no matter what. If anything, compared to expert assessments, they are likely to underestimate the extent to which they are discriminated against, not overestimate it.
We found that subjective perceptions of discrimination are related to the nature and extent of actual discrimination, whether this is in society, in the labour market or in public services. In other words, when Diversity & Inclusion increases, when social justice and equality improves, perceptions among minority groups do reflect these changes. People from minority groups notice both positive and negative changes over time and between companies and between individuals. They can tell the difference between discrimination based on gender, skin colour, ethnicity, religion and social class. They can distinguish between ‘poor service’ and specifically discriminatory service, between ‘unpleasant colleagues’ and discriminatory workplaces.
The full research report details a range of psychosocial and service-specific reasons why some people perceive discrimination and others don’t, in some environments and not in others. It also highlights of range of things that organisations and individuals can do to improve perceptions that they are diverse, inclusive and fair.
If you don’t have time to read the report, you might be interested in this short case study. And if you don’t have the time to read the case study, then take our word for it: genuine efforts to make your corporate culture and your own individual behaviour more tolerant, welcoming and inclusive will not be wasted. Your colleagues, employees and customers will notice them and, over time, it will lead to more positive perceptions of your brand and workplace.
It’s worth it.
Keep an eye out for the other blogs in the ‘Diversity Myths’ series. While each piece stands alone, we believe that a powerful and coherent case emerges when all seven myths are considered as a whole.
Once we understand these myths, it becomes impossible to think of Diversity & Inclusion as being the sole responsibility of the Human Resources Department, the Corporate Social Responsibility Department, the Marketing and Communications Department or the Innovation Department. It becomes everyone’s responsibility - whether you are leaders, managers, supervisors, employees or serving customers - to play a role, every day, in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace that benefits all.
If you recognise these myths at work, please get in touch. We’ll be able to help you address them and transform your organisation.