The question I have started to dread.
“Ummm well I run a start up business”.
“Oh yes, what is the business?”
“Well it’s diversity & inclusion in workplaces”
“Oh okay!” *awkward silence* “... so what is that?”
Story of my life. Occasionally I will just say ‘solicitor’ to avoid this conversation altogether. Solicitor is a job that everyone knows and understands. It even leads into other easy discussion points, “What kind of law?” or “What law firm are you at?”
But trying to explain what ‘diversity & inclusion in the workplace’ is is a whole other ball game.
There are so many ways to explain it. I have recently started saying ‘anti-discrimination in the workplace’. Sometimes I say ‘social impact’ or ‘corporate social responsibility’. Sexism, racism, ageism, ageism & homophobia’ are also easier concepts to understand.
I think people are either aware that concepts like racial or gender discrimination, even in the most subtle forms, exist in workplaces, or it is simply something they have never thought about before. Very few would actively disagree, although we do hear the occasional ‘your generation has just made this whole thing up’ (okay that was only once, but it stuck).
As awkward and sometimes frustrating as it is, the fact that people don’t know what ‘diversity & inclusion’ is, or that discrimination does exist in the workplace, is a good thing for us. It is the whole reason that we exist. It gives us our purpose - to make people AWARE that these issues exist and are real.
Because understanding that the issues are real is the first step to actually tackling them.
You can’t start to tackle something like Maori representation on a Board if you can’t even see that everyone is the same colour in the first place. You need to open your eyes to the discrimination first.
And that is what we are doing. Raising that awareness and helping people see what they might otherwise have missed.
Our ultimate goal is to no longer need to exist
Admittedly, it is very refreshing when someone immediately understands what we do. But if they do, we are speaking to the converted, to our early adopters, to the ones who want us to come into their workplace immediately and help them convert everyone else. Our work is already done!
So ask, please just ask that dreaded question, and even though you might stare at me blankly, if I am any good at what I do I should be able to explain it to you quickly in a way that you will understand. Then hopefully the next time you see the word diversity, that tiny seed that I planted post blank stare will start to grow.