by Tina Nielsen
Originally published: March 14, 2016
It's something we hear all the time: it makes good business sense for companies to be more inclusive. Diverse firms are more representative of customers, inclusive leadership and team culture guards against the risk of "group conformity", and when an organization can draw on a wider pool of candidates, and mitigate unconscious bias in the process, they ensure they're hiring the best. It's even good for the bottom line: time after time, research shows that diversity boosts a company’s profit, growth and even creativity.
But while we might rationally understand the value in this – both economic and moral – many organizations still struggle to create inclusive workplace cultures, at least at the pace we need. The barriers are often hidden, as are the solutions. Why is this and what can we do about it?
Why you can't see what's right in front of you
People in general are biased and see reality in the shape of their own homogenous environment, making us blind to inequality. Research confirms this: we are unable to see economic inequality, largely in part because of our environment and a tendency to cluster socially with people who are similar to us in terms of income, status or education, for example.
According to this research, it is not that privileged people don't want to deal with inequality: they are not able to see it. When we extend these research insights to the workplace, it means that those in privileged positions are blind to the lack of equal opportunities in getting hired, making contributions or advancing. We are also blind to inequality because it's systemic, hidden in our organizational processes and implicit norms.