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Micro inequalities – why the little things matter more than we might think

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 This is the second in a series of articles on Diversity and Inclusion based on conversations with Hilary Harvey, Partner of TPC Leadership UK. Today we address why micro inequalities are a big issue for leadership.

There’s a new level of pressure on businesses to be accountable and demonstrate their commitment to inclusion. It’s now non-negotiable to simply avoid or ignore these issues

“As human beings we need to take responsibility, actively seeking to include and appreciate differences,” says Hilary. “Inclusion doesn’t just happen, it has to be worked for.”

But while big steps need to be taken to improve issues surrounding inclusion, it’s often the micro inequalities that hold businesses back.  

Awareness of inclusivity

Micro inequalities, though often unconscious and unintentional, create a sense of exclusion. So to tackle this issue it’s important to notice where this discriminatory behaviour appears and to point it out when it happens.

“Greater inclusion is created when we see differences and actively seek to include,” says Hilary. “If businesses want to thrive and grow with multiple perspectives and creative ideas, they need to make sure that non-inclusive language and behaviours are checked.”

While few people are intentionally hostile or purposefully excluding people, a micro aggression can be just as impactful as clear discriminatory behaviour. And small statements can create a big sense of exclusion.

Workplace challenges and change

“When you are not part of the dominant culture, it’s more of an effort to not self-censor around bringing your whole self to work,” says Hilary. “For instance, if you’re the lone woman in an older-white male environment, you might not feel that you are able to show up fully.”

If someone is in that situation, Hilary says, everyone else needs to make sure that person’s difference is celebrated so that they feel free to let their difference show. This is especially true for leaders, who should be helping empower their team members to be confident in who they are.

Inclusivity in a working environment is about creating a space where everyone feels comfortable to bring their whole selves to work. If people feel excluded, it is likely that they will be less confident and even change parts of their identity just to fit in. But where people feel comfortable and included they will be more confident in expressing their own innovative ideas. 

“Being professional in the corporate world often looks a certain way and it doesn’t always encourage bringing elements of cultural heritage,” says Hilary. “It’s taken me up until now to dress in a way that also reflects my cultural background. As a new senior Partner, it’s important for me to feel confident in expressing my ideas, to know that I add value through contributing my own unique identity and perspective – and how I dress is part of this. ”

To actively include, we also need to go beyond what is immediately noticeable. By being aware of when people are fasting for Ramadan, for instance, businesses can be more inclusive when planning breaks during a training day. It’s gestures like this that can help businesses show respect to people’s culture and ensure their employees feel valued. 

“People are human beings first, not employees,” says Hilary. “So we need to ask, ‘how can we really make people feel welcomed or valued?’ How do we value people for the individuals they are, not just the work they produce?” 

Facing the problem

Figuring out the appropriate forum to call out non-inclusive behaviour can be difficult. Hilary says that sometimes a private one-to-one discussion might be the easiest approach, especially if you have a long-standing relationship with someone. 

“We need to be open to hear about our blind spots, even though it may be uncomfortable,” says Hilary. “Making ourselves vulnerable, hearing where we are not being inclusive, and learning from it is key to changing our behaviour.” 

Taking responsibility and educating others on how to be more inclusive is vital to move forward. Where people appreciate and celebrate differences, there will be a more powerful workforce filled with more confident employees who will not hold back their creative and innovative ideas. 

Looking for insight on how to move forward? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

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