The project builds on multiple data sources, multiple fieldwork studies with organization ranging from a local NGO to large multinational corporations, mostly in Sweden but also to some extent in Denmark. We are meeting interlocutors active in various sectors such as IT, logistics, Pharmacy, Defense, Education or Bank, in the private and public sectors. What these organizations have in common is an ambition to make diversity matter and to work for inclusion.
From the variety of perspectives and situations we have met in the project, we can identify major recurring themes: Ownership of the Diversity question: who is in charge? CEOs, owners, HR or everyone? Who benefits from Diversity and Diversity programs? The management team, the mentors and the minorities? What do companies want? Inclusion or assimilation?
We found that diversity and its management is not a straightforward practice. Despite genuine and massive diversity efforts the results of these efforts were sometimes vague, ambiguous, paradoxical or with little impact. One clear outcome of our research confirms existing literature on the importance of leadership support, especially owners. In some organizations, the diversity agenda is clearly claimed (e.g. by CEOs or HR) but not strongly supported by owners. In organizations where owners are actively supporting diversity, we witness an engagement of HR and the workforce that is impressive. It seems that a strong ownership with a strong agenda for diversity and inclusion magnifies the efforts of employees, managers and specialists that are committed to diversity and inclusion. For example, some organizations focus on gender equality and sensitize their employees on the topic with mandatory workshops, adding gender on the Key Performance Indicators and more. This clearly leads to higher awareness of employees on topics of discrimination and inclusion. On the other hand, when owners do not seem to be engaged in diversity issues and leave this agenda to HR or managers, the results are mixed.
Yet, the diversity management practices that are developed are seldom based on informed knowledge about diversity and discrimination. Often, diversity is taken as a positive thing without problematisation or reflexivity. In some instances, certain diversity management practices (e.g. recruitment of diverse employees) can even lead to career’ prospect discrimination. For example, we hear managers say: ‘It’s so nice with these people (read: persons with a minority background), because they are so grateful for the job they got. They don’t really want to progress, and they are so loyal to the company compared to the Swedes!’ This is an example of what we call ‘othering’ and ‘naturalization’ of the minority group’s weak power position. By not recognizing that the ‘gratefulness’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘satisfaction’ could result from precarious positions of persons with minority background on the labour market, employers will not see these employees for their full potential, and will continue to see and treat them as different.
In some organizations, e.g those genuinely committed to programs for the inclusion of migrants in the workforce, we are surprised by the lack of organizational and leadership learning from diversity. For example, mentees in some programs report how they learn to fit in, but mentors do not report learning about dealing with diversity and differences. This may be an indication that inclusion is not yet performed, that organizational climate might be about tolerance of diversity, but it is assimilation, not inclusion, which is taking place. This means that the potential of diversity and the respect of differences is not yet considered and does not yet enrich the company: employees learn to downplay their differences to fit in.
For information on the project contact Laurence Romani (Laurence.firstname.lastname@example.org)