Diversity and everyday life

Diversity is about diversity in the workplace. Diversity is deviating from the norm in one way or another – because of age, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, health or disability. It is about working through often surprisingly difficult cultural change with leaders. Diversity is strongly linked to mindsets, even subconscious assumptions about norms, the culture of the organisation and the people. It is important to note that if you try to promote diversity without clear objectives, you will achieve very little. 

While some diversity issues, such as illness or religion, may not be visible to the outside world, a rough estimate is easy to make: what it looks like when you look around. At the FIBS meeting – a sustainability association attended by business representatives from many Finnish companies – the only people present in June were native Finnish-speaking, white, conservative, strictly business-dressed people. No one deviated from this norm, which was very narrow. One might reasonably ask, if diversity is not evident in the accountability professionals whose responsibility it is to be inclusive, what is it in the rest of the organisation? If the norm in dress and non-diversity is visibly apparently narrow, how can one assume that the message is not contradictory – people talk about inclusion but the reality is different. At worst, this compromises the very essence of sustainability and is the message – sustainability is just talk and part of marketing communications, not actions.

The responsibility for diversity always lies with management, but also with every person in and around the organisation. Management has the opportunity to demonstrate by example and through its decisions a commitment to continuous improvement and to living up to its words. Leadership can be divided into two distinct parts, day-to-day leadership and change leadership. The differences are reflected, for example, in the timeframe and the goal.

Problem areas

Employment of people with foreign background is difficult in Finland. Language requirements are often unnecessarily stringent and professionals are forced to start in jobs that are far less demanding than their education and experience should allow. Another everyday observation is in relation to illness; if a person has an illness or disability, employment becomes substantially more difficult. In this respect, the reality is that there is much room for improvement. This is also a test – if accountability is as important as it is claimed to be, improvement should be visible.

Elements for success

Addressing diversity issues requires people to know, understand, engage, act and ultimately make lasting changes to the way they operate within an organisation. The elements for success are ongoing collaboration, clarity on where to target change, accountability, communication and top-level support. 

Change management is about taking small steps to achieve success. The first step is to educate people in the organisation about the objectives, the change in the way of working and possible new approaches.  Attitudes need to change at all levels of the organisation. The next step is to diagnose the reception of the change and any problems encountered. How will the tools needed for change be developed to overcome the problems identified? Address the problem areas and assess the overall progress of the change.

Reflect on your key challenges in promoting diversity and what you have experienced as elements of success. Every organisation has a range of tried and tested, commonly agreed ways of working and tools. Identify good practices and take them with you to support change management!