Last week, Argentina approved by decree the Trans workforce quota for public offices. This law established that all national public offices will need to have 1% of their jobs taken by travesties and transgender people. This represent and enormous victory for the Trans community which is one of the most marginalized and excluded minorities in our country and in most countries. This quota marks a precedent for companies and non-gubernamental institutions to follow this example. Even more importantly however, this law generates a country-wide conversation. I think it’s time to speak as a society about work diversity and inclusion.
In the last 10 years, inclusion in the workplace has taken some gigantic steps forward. Almost all big companies now have an inclusion and diversity policy in place. Public scrutiny has made certain that discrimination in the workplace can be quickly denounced, if not through internal HR systems, through social media, which tends to have swift and concrete repercussions. The game has changed and the balance has tipped slightly more towards the side of justice. Now, however, we need to have a conversation over the quality of inclusion and diversity policies. Because, and we all know this, for most companies inclusions is just a PR move. It’s a new requisite to be accepted by society and clients and as usual, and many are doing the bare minimum on this subject. In the US this is known as “Token minorities”. The concept describe the situation perfectly, just a minority to showcase to your guests as a decoration or medal of good moral.
If you pay attention, most companies just choose one or two minorities and base all their inclusion policy around them. They may choose handicapped people, race or sexuality and make a big fuss about some internal department or training they’ve implemented to include that specific group. This, however, is a discriminatory act by itself, because you are excluding all other minorities when choosing just one group. You are stating that one specific minority deserves more to be on your company than the rest. It’s very likely that in the following months we’ll see this happen with the new Trans Quota Law, as a multitude of companies rush to apply a similar quota and publicize themselves as champions of equality, while the other 99% of their workforce continues to have no signs of other minorities.
This small discrimination is maybe understandable, if companies struggle to educate on just one issue of diversity how are they going to educate and make space for all minorities? Most managers don’t understand the difference between a non-binary person and a bisexual (or even worse, don’t believe these orientations exist!), so of course they choose the simplest and type of inclusion and hope it suffices. What these managers and companies need to understand is that once an inclusion process begins, it can’t be stopped.
Any inclusion process, just like the digitalization of a company, is an exponential and irreversible path. What we would call an “Always on” project, simply because there’s so much ground to cover, and so many years to make up for. When you’re done educating on sexual orientation, then you need to cover gender inequalities, then, race inequality, then class inequality, then cognitive inequalities, and so much more. Every subject has tremendous depth, complexity and needs to be handled with the intent and seriousness it deserves, or it could severely backfire on the company and generate new internal claims or even lawsuits.
The first action in this process is always to generate a dialogue so that every stakeholder and employee knows and understands the whole spectrum of minorities and the exclusions they suffer. These can be done as seminars or monthly open talks led by experts on each subject, sharing successes as well as failures in integration policies. The objective is to start conversations. This helps in eliminating fears, taboos and prejudice.
This is not a short-term strategy, it’s a long term, cumulative effort which buils upon itself to reach the final understanding of true empathy, reflection and openness. It’s important to also understand that there’s no fixed manual or rulebook and that every geography and time has different needs. For example, the United States right now is going through intense racial violence and discrimination. One could argue that the integration of LGBTQ+ has covered more ground in recent years than the true integration of African American and latino people. Given this situation of civil unrest, companies would be wise to focus their efforts on the inclusion of these groups at the moment. In Latin America on the other hand, the inclusion of Native and Indigenous communities could take the focus, since they are the most excluded and vulnerable ethnic group of the region. Every country will have different needs and starting points which companies should pay attention to.
It’s important to understand this is not just a moral issue. Recent research by Hewlett, Marshall and Sherbin has showed that leaders with diverse backgrounds foster innovation within their companies and tend to create an environment where new ideas are welcomed and well received. The same study revealed that diverse teams are more likely to share the points of view and experiences of their end users, generating a better User Experience in the final products created.
An equally compeling study by McKinsey showed that companies among the top quartile diversity on their executive boards generated 53% highe Returns on Equity than companies on the bottom diversity quartile. The same study showed that these same diverse business generated on average 14% high earnings before interest and tax. For those who might doubt of these findings, a study done by Credit Suisse paid close attention to collateral factors for these effects and found that “The causation between greater gender diversity and improved profitability goes beyond simply pre-existing strength of the company”. This means that the effect of diversity was the same regardless of the robustness or solidity of the company.
Even though we all advocate for justice and equality, the world still runs on money and sadly, many people need to know that these types of changes are not “a risk” for their company. By now, it should be common sense that whatever makes people happy and more fulfilled will translate into a better return of investment. If you have a safe, healthy and happy work environment, your business will thrive. This is not rocket science.
We need to cherish and be glad that today’s context is a communicative and open process. A lot of things have changed in the last 10 years, but a lot needs to be consolidated yet. Right now, there’s a process and eagerness from society to understand and include all of us. The dream of globalization, of a brotherhood without borders is closer every day. We are increasingly working with different people, different teams and in different environments. We have a challenging year ahead of us and we won’t make it through if we’re not all on the same boat, eager to seat beside each other as equals.