“Leadership must recognize their unconscious and implicit biases to begin to help organizations become inclusive. Leaders who are engaged will recognize inequities and will also recognize bias as well as disrespect and incivility.”

Elizabeth Vosburgh, Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre

Diversity is about differences, equity is about providing equal access, inclusion is about fostering empowerment. DEI creates the framework for a workforce where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Creating this sense of belonging involves employing a culture of learning where leaders recognize their own biases and how these biases affect the culture, the workforce, and overall, the direction of their organization.

What are biases?

Biases are ‘automatic associations’, which we are likely not aware exist and are difficult for us to manage.  These biases and subsequent actions (micro aggressions) may cause inequality and harm in the way we treat others. Usually, these aggressions do not have any negative intent or hostility behind them.  If you find yourself saying or hearing others in your organization expressing statements such as ‘You can speak English so well’ or ‘Where are you actually from?’ or ‘You’re being oversensitive’ then you can safely assume there is implicit or unconscious bias running through your organization.

These biases may result in unfair recruitment and promotion practices, gender pay differences, and existence of exclusionary policies and practices. Your organization may end up having a narrow recruitment pool, restrictive promotion opportunities, hindrance of creativity, and low levels of productivity and innovation.

What should leaders do to reduce these effects? 

“The job of a leader is to protect their people from discomfort,” says Claire Herring from Blue Ocean Brain. “However, this doesn’t mean employees should not be unwilling to speak about uncomfortable topics, ask questions to challenge accepted ideas and practices, or raise issues of concern.  Everyone must feel free to show up at work and be their true and authentic self.”[1]

“Employees should not worry about code switching or shielding part of their identity,” says Catalina Colman, Senior Director of DEI at Built In. “They should be able to walk through the door without feeling like something about them has to change.”[2] Employees must feel free to speak up and be heard. Encourage novel ideas and creativity. Empower them to make decisions by creating a safe place for them to actively participate.

This sense of belonging should be reflected in human resources policies and practices, how you attract and retain talent, how you develop others, the value your policies and practices place on recognition of, and appreciation for, individual needs.

At Mohawk College Enterprise, our research has led us to believe DEI is demonstrated by “the degree to which an individual perceives that they are the esteemed member of the group through experiencing treatment that satisfies their needs for belongingness and uniqueness.”[3]

We build these factors into our asynchronous, virtual, and face-to-face training programs with interactive tools such as Zoom breakout rooms, Trello Boards, MindMaps, and Debates to foster collaboration and belonginess. For uniqueness, we encourage sharing through polls (Sli.do, Mentimeter, or Poll Everywhere), annotation, self-reflection, and storytelling. Participants are encouraged to challenge one another’s assumptions and raise their issues and concerns in a safe environment.

A key leadership development activity is ‘The Circle of Trust’ to demonstrate affinity bias. Participants are asked to note down names or initials of those they trust (not immediate family). The facilitator then calls out a variety of categories and characteristics, such as age, gender, native language, profession, qualification, etc. Each participant places a checkmark beside the name or initials of the persons who share these characteristics with them. Very quickly, participants recognize the lack of diversity in their trusted group – all of them look just like them.

Leaders should consider providing networking and training opportunities for everyone to raise their visibility. Assigning sponsors and coaches to those feeling marginalized raises satisfaction levels and engagement as sponsors and coaches become advocates for these employees.

Leaders need to find ways to encourage everyone in their organization to learn about each other, their differences and similarities, their working and communication preferences. It is not enough to collect data, analyse the data, then create and implement a framework. It is about continuous learning, recognition and appreciation, empathy and support, encouragement, and empowerment. This is what constitutes an inclusive workplace, one where everyone feels like they belong.

[1] Claire Herring is the Chief Learning Officer at Blue Ocean Brain, a learning and development company.

[2] https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion/what-does-dei-mean-in-the-workplace

[3] Randel, et al., 2017

MCE recognizes the importance of equipping individuals and companies with the skills and expertise necessary to survive in our fast-paced world. MCE provides training in leadership, technology, and health & community services to address the growing demand of business today as well as being ready for tomorrow’s workplace. 


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