Cultural Shift – Reset

Not too long ago, a mentor of mine told me that during his young age, he was prohibited from using the company’s restroom just because he was
black. With the caste system still rampant here in Nepal, I could, to some extent understand how he must have felt.

Subash Shrestha

I’ve tried to be optimistic about these situations, believing that gradually, our society and organizations, will make progress and will leave such practices in the past. I am hopeful the 21st century will mark the dawn of technological breakthroughs, a significant rise in progressive thought leadership, and open culture while there will be a substantial decline in workplace discrimination. While I do feel we have made significant progress, I still feel, there is a lot to strive for collectively on most of the agendas.

Why I say this is because I facilitated a recruitment process where the hiring manager insisted on hiring the second-ranked male candidate despite a female candidate being technically sound and was leading the score chart. I could not believe that in an organization where I was a “somebody” had to struggle and linger for a straightforward call. I could not come to terms that the “old school” still thrived among us. Since then, I’ve asked myself many times. Would I have been successful in getting her onboard had she been an LGBTQ individual or belonged to a marginalized community or a person with disability or if she was all of the above? Honestly, I don’t know. But I would have definitely put up a fight.

Change is difficult, but it must happen. It is a human tendency that we naturally tend to incline and gravitate towards people whom we perceive are like us. Our experiences, preconceived notions, prejudices, fears, and unwillingness to accept change further amplify our biases. And these biases over the years finds its way towards various terms of employment and without realizing, it gets inbuilt into the organization’s culture. However, that can no longer be our defense for discriminatory behavior and practices in the workplace. The implications of such actions are just too costly. Hostile work environment, low productivity, talent drain, difficulty in recruiting, legal implication, and damaged public image are some organizational and personal consequences. In recent years, high-profile companies and a few names from the development sector were also highlighted for alleged harassment and discriminatory practices.

The Nepalese workplace is catching up to the global standards and is changing in profound ways. Our communication methods and management styles, organization culture, and the way we do our jobs on a daily basis have all changed; the pace of change sometimes can be dizzying. Add to the mix of new technologies and the permanent marks of a global pandemic. This is a package deal. In this modern era, there should be no room for the old school of thought based on prejudice, biases, and assumptions. Thus, a conscious effort is required to create an institutionalized inclusive work environment. We have to be intentional about creating a diverse workforce ensuring every single person feels valued and can bring their full self to work. Fear of being judged over who we are, where come from, how we look, our sexuality, gender, the color of our skin, and so on should be the least of our priorities. There is no alternative to acknowledge, accept, and respect our individuality and uniqueness. So, the question now arises, what should the way forward look like?

According to International Labour Organization (ILO), companies with more inclusive business cultures and policies see a 59 percent increase in innovation and 37 percent better assessment of consumer interest and demand.

Therefore it’s easy to see why organizations must constantly evolve and innovate their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies.

This is especially true for talent acquisition and hiring, where the competition for top people is as steep as ever. As is the incentive for building workplaces around diversity, equity, and inclusion. After all, it’s people at the core of innovation and inclusive groups tend to yield better results.

However, implementation is not so simple. Having a policy in place does not ensure complete DEI implementation nor will it yield immediate results. DEI is not just a policy document but a journey that requires a shift in the mindset of not just the top management, but every individual. For DEI to flourish, it requires a cultural shift built over the foundation of compassion, transparency, authenticity, accountability, courageous conversation, synchronized effort, and of course resource commitment. The DEI approach could mean different to different organizations depending upon their unique business practices and needs. The ‘one size fits all’ policy may not be applicable here. Nonetheless, the core concepts are the same. Humanity! To facilitate the readers in their DEI journey let’s slightly deep dive into the core definitions.

Diversity refers to the identities and characteristics that make individuals and groups unique and different from each other. Identity markers may include race, ethnicity, caste, socioeconomics, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, indigenous heritage, religion, language, marital and family status, age, body type, educational level, dis/ability, geographic location, political affiliation, citizenship, and veteran status. While characteristics may include personality type and diversity of thought.

Equity refers to fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people while identifying disparities, shifting power structures, eliminating systemic barriers, and providing needed resources to ensure the full agency, participation, and benefit of people who have experienced discrimination and oppression.

Inclusion refers to actions to create an environment in which everyone is and feels welcomed, respected, valued, and supported to fully participate.

I hope that these definitions will come in handy for all organizations willing to develop and implement DEI framework which suites their unique operations. May DEI flourish in every organization and may humanity thrive on unity!

Shrestha is Senior Manager, People Operations at Room to Read.

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