Inclusivity


The practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of minority groups. Source: Oxford dictionary.

Who doesn’t like to feel included? Whether we’re talking about children having fun on a playground, being invited to a high school party or being successfully hired, we all like to feel both included and welcomed.

Many organizations have looked at themselves with an objective eye and found a discrepancy in their hiring preferences; preferences which have over time favoured some people over others.  That this should occur should not perhaps be inherently surprising in itself; like attracts like in a broad sense. In any particular country, you may find those whom hire, tend to select candidates who speak a similar language, share common beliefs, have a common educational background, perhaps even share a skin tone. However, as population demographics change, one would expect that an organization would gradually reflect the communities around them through their hiring practices.

Historically, an available pool of candidates vying for work tended to be homogenized; of a similar or uniform composition. An interviewer might peer out to see all 6 candidates in a reception area to be of the same skin colour, gender and to the eye all appeared to be physically fit. This may have been the norm in days past – and may still be the norm depending upon where in the world you’re living – but times change, demographics change.  Now an interview might look out to find 6 candidates with very little in common upon first glance.

Some companies have consciously gone about making adjustments to their hiring practices. They have developed policies which have created more diversity in the workplace so that the organizations better reflect those in the communities they serve. In short, they want to look representative of those who consume their services. They’d like you to walk in and find people from various racial backgrounds and cultures, who speak more than a single language, who have physical, gender and age differences.

Yes great strides have been consciously taken in many workplaces to better visually represent the full spectrum of the general population. However, we’re a long way from achieving that goal of full inclusivity. Biases and preferences still exist, and sometimes those biases go so far as to be prejudices. Unfortunately prejudice does rear its head; that conscious decision to exclude segments of a population, leaving those in some groups marginalized and excluded.

Keep in mind as you read that some companies have made great strides; that they have consciously taken steps to be more inclusive is indeed commendable. I don’t believe there should be an award for doing so, but it is worthy of a, ‘good for you’ when an organization breaks with traditional practices and evolves to better diversify its workforce.

I said earlier that when an interviewer looks into reception, they tend to see more diversification in the interviewees; a good thing. However, we have not yet evolved sufficiently to always include what we can’t see; mental health and income as two examples. There exists unfortunately a preference (if you want to emphasize a positive) or a prejudice (if you want to emphasize a negative) against hiring people who receive welfare or social assistance. Some jurisdictions have even changed the wording of such benefits to fend off such discrimination or bias.

To be fair, organizations don’t typically have written polices that discriminate against the poor. Yet every so often I see an employment application that requires an applicant to provide the source of their current income or their combined family income level. When you’re out of work and living in poverty, you tend to feel the hurt and pain of providing such information, and you can’t help but wonder how that information is going to help them decide whether you’re the right candidate.

The thing about poverty is that it isn’t always visible – similar to mental health. Poverty might just limit the ability of a person to impress however. A job interview held over lunch or dinner might severely restrict the financial ability of a candidate to compete, as might their lack of transportation funds nullify their ability to get to all the interviews they’d otherwise choose to attend.

Poverty can also force a person to make tough choices between paying rent and eating versus getting teeth taken care of, staying well-dressed if their wardrobe needs updating etc. Poverty itself might be invisible, but it can explain why a candidate might not quite fit in. Hire them and give them the income that comes with the job however and you would see an improvement in those areas now that they can address things their lack of income prevented them from doing so.

Inclusivity is gaining momentum and I applaud it. This accounts for more women in the workforce, older workers having legitimate shots at getting hired, gives hope to the people who want to financially support themselves and not sit on the sidelines as “disabled”. It allows people with gender differences to stand and compete based solely on their ability to do the work at hand.

If your job has you in the position of hiring, be honest with yourself and look at your hiring biases, preferences and practices. If you look at your workforce and it’s not representative of the larger community, perhaps it’s time to change.

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