The importance of understanding and working with difference

Organisations should not tone down their inclusive direction for fear of backlash, argues Hilary Stephenson.

It was incredibly disappointing to see the National Trust berated in the press recently over its decision to introduce mandatory diversity training for volunteers.

In recent years, we have somehow gone from increasing numbers of organisations exploring their unconscious bias and diversity awareness, to a situation where those placing emphasis on this important training and improving the service they provide are facing backlash.

Inclusion training enables employees to work more effectively with those of different abilities, backgrounds or identities to themselves. It emphasises the importance of being inclusive, welcoming diversity and the benefits of doing so. It aims to raise awareness of unconscious biases with the aim of encouraging employees to better interact with people with varying backgrounds and perspectives.

It is worrying that helping staff members to broaden their understanding of the experiences of people of colour, those with disabilities and members of the LGBTQIA community, for example, is now being criticised on social media and in the press.

Why should any organisation improving its company culture by implementing inclusive training ever be discouraged from doing so?

This kind of perfectly reasonable and useful training should not be denigrated as too politically correct as it comes from a desire to enrich understanding, and organisations should not be reluctant to implement it for fear of backlash.

A key function of diversity training is to combat the risk of discrimination and harassment in the workplace and has the added benefits of improving self-awareness, workplace morale and productivity. So, why should any organisation improving its company culture by implementing inclusive training ever be discouraged from doing so?

Inclusion extends further than just accessibility. Organisations should employ and work with people who have genuine diversity of experience and understanding of minority groups, to ensure they are inclusive and reflective of the people they are catering for.

Some employees may find initiatives such as unconscious bias training uncomfortable, but this is an important element of the training. Staff must be aware of their own barriers in order to address them and then overcome them.

This kind of training can be divisive, and we may see a shift in many brands’ positioning, with some organisations toning down their inclusive direction for fear of public criticism and negative social media sentiment.

We have already seen some policy changes in what should and shouldn’t be discussed in the workplace. However, it is critical that organisations rise above the potentially negative reactions and provide training for staff which will help the organisation and employees better themselves and provide the highest quality of service.

Within my own organisation, we still have work to do to improve our inclusivity and diversity training, but we are working on it. We aspire to be an organisation in which our employees and clients feel supported and included no matter their life experience, ethnicity, sexuality or gender.

Organisations who are further along their inclusivity journey should be held up as model examples, and those who take the step to improve their policies should be applauded, rather than denounced, in the press.


About the author

Hilary Stephenson is managing director at human-centred research, design and development agency, Nexer Digital



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