Diversity is no longer about ‘why’ – it’s about ‘how’

Technology is never a silver bullet. But we predict disruptive technology will play an increasingly large role in driving real behaviour change.

Returning inspired from the Diversity in Technology 2018 Conference I reflected on how “Diversity & Inclusion” has moved along. “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance,” according to Verna Myers’ outstanding TED talk back in 2017. How true.

But this year’s conference was all about recognising just how diverse our differences truly are. Each person is a unique construct, so of course humanity’s diversity is just as infinite: let’s recognise and welcome inter-sectionality, gender fluidity, unseen disabilities such as mental ill-health,and let’s not forget race diversity alongside the growing momentum for gender balance.

Twenty-odd years ago, Catalyst was founded, the buzz was all about ‘Equal Opportunities’. Continuing Myers’ analogy, we might say Equal Opportunities was then about being asked to dance – providing we all dance the same dance and in the usual way. By challenging that idea that everyone wishes to be treated the same, and recognising that equal opportunities preserved monocultural norms rather than dismantling them, the equal opps industry moved speedily towards Equality & Diversity. Myers might have compared that to being encouraged to select your favourite dance from among the usual ballroom classics.

In the last five years, we witnessed and supported the ground-breaking shift in focus to Diversity & Inclusion, which placed valuing and leveraging difference at the heart of the debate. Today, I feel Myers might say ‘Inclusion is being asked to freestyle it. Throw your own shapes!’.

It makes perfect sense that today’s D&I agenda is as much about disruption, innovation and collaboration skill as it is about anything else. Despite troubling recent headlines about the attitudes that still apparently pervade big business in the UK, some might argue the diversity battle is won.

Our own Catalyst HR Professionals’ Network reports that top leadership ‘gets the business benefit of diversity’ and why to sponsor change. Our upcoming workforce Gens Y and Z certainly ‘get it’ if the plethora of bias-busting apps, augmented reality behavioural training and collaborative social enterprise start ups are anything to go by.

So, for our clients and for us as a firm D&I is increasingly not about ‘why’ but rather ‘how’, particularly among hard-pressed banking technology middle management who face such delivery pressure from the regulatory agenda that pragmatically there’s little time for the ‘luxury’ of blind interviewing or encouraging job applications from far afield.

All this means there’s a big opportunity for D&I right now – just how do we increase diversity and foster inclusion?

Augmented reality is just one example of how technology is helping answer that question. It’s now possible in unconscious bias training to embody the experience of another person and adopt their perspective, which promotes empathy and makes it more likely we’ll alter our behaviour, despite our innate tendency to maintain bias. Yet technology has never been a silver bullet, at best it’s a catalyst or enabler of change. Real behaviour change requires bought-in people, and it’s not enough merely to sign up to a Charter – it requires internal initiatives to engage staff in identifying what action to take and supporting cultural evolution by up-skilling everyone to spot and call out microaggression skilfully.

Here at Catalyst we are doing precisely that, pursuing our commitment to our own Charter by designing our own inclusion strategies and living them. We look forward to helping clients do the same, and we predict disruptive technology will play an increasingly large role in driving that behaviour change.

Note: This opinion piece was first published by Catalyst prior to the Sionic merger