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  • philippajdengler

Diversity & Inclusion - a journey of transformation

Walk around many technology and manufacturing companies in Switzerland today and you will notice that the number of men aged between 30 and 45 in the workforce is massively over-represented compared to the rest of society.

Despite talking about wanting more women in the workforce and needing to address impeding skill shortages by retaining older workers the demographic make-up of many companies remains largely unchanged. That's because it's difficult. It's difficult to attract, recruit, develop, promote and retain people who don't immediately measure up to a pre-defined "cultural fit" which over recent decades has evolved to stand for "middle aged, male, 110% committed to doing all it takes to get the job done". Most leadership teams are aware of research that shows how diverse teams, made up of people from different ethnic backgrounds, age cohorts, genders and educational backgrounds significantly outperform non-diverse teams on tasks that require complex problem solving and innovation. Most leadership teams will tell you they actively support the development of a diverse, inclusive culture in which every member of the workforce can bring their full selves to work and contribute fully. And yet - walking around, talking to people on the shop floor, you realise very little changes. Fortunately many companies, including a large technology and manufacturing company I am currently working with, recognise that precisely because it is difficult it's worth investing thought, time and effort into changing. It's the right thing to do in today's ever more complex, fast-paced world and organisations that crack it reap benefits in productivity and innovation that show up in the financial results. Approaching the topic of Diversity and Inclusion in a thoughtful, holistic way means taking the organisation on a transformational journey through different stages of maturity over several years - from talking about D&I, to becoming more diverse and inclusive in leadership practices and people management strategies, to finally being an employer where a diverse workforce lives and breathes an inclusive culture. It means shifting the focus from identity-based diversity, which focuses on visible things like gender, to figuring out how to leverage cognitive diversity by enabling everyone (including all those middle-aged men) to benefit from an inclusive culture that has learnt to value differences. Raising awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion, the impact of unconscious bias on our decision making and the consequences it has for the people involved is a good first step. But it is only the first step. Raising awareness alone has never been sufficient to change behaviour and shift cultural norms. Leveraging volumes of research from behavioural science and sifting through years of "best practice" it becomes clear that changes need to be made in the structures and policies that impact daily working life and people need time and support to change habits and thought patterns that have accompanied them for years. Deciding where to focus, which topics to address and how, how much top-down support is required and how to generate sufficient bottom-up momentum are among the challenges of developing a D&I strategy right for a particular organisation. It's complex fascinating work, with ups and downs, periods of progress, periods of stagnation and periods of doubt, but it's worth it as more and more organisations are coming to understand.

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