Diversity: Practice makes for a work in progress

diverse group of people working in an office, diversity, BAME workers

Article by Laura Baldwin, President at O’Reilly

I was recently asked, “How do you think businesses should approach diversity and inclusion?” The question really forced me to think.

I’ve seen an increasing number of companies publish their yearly diversity statistics and celebrate their progress. In truth, I’ve taken a similar approach in an annual post for O’Reilly employees. Every year. Like clockwork.

But I’ve come to realise that it’s not about approaching diversity and inclusion—it’s about practicing it.

When we approach something, we think of it as a one-time problem we need to fix or some singular thing we need to achieve. Something that can go neatly into a report or a blog post. But when we put our vision for diversity and inclusion into practice continuously, over time, we open up powerful components that can help drive a successful business. However, the reality of practicing diversity can be a lot harder than simply talking about it.

Looking internally

Many businesses, like O’Reilly, are struggling to understand what diversity looks like to them and how to create it with teams in a constructive way. For us, it was about adding diversity within our online training hosts and it took bringing in someone from the outside to point out what was right in front of us. Our “work with us” video that we used to recruit new trainers was filled with similar faces and voices. How my team and I had not realised this I don’t know, but it is similar for many companies – when you are so in the weeds it is hard to pick out the simple changes you should make.

Once we recreated the video with a diverse group of trainers that was more representative of the trainers we had – and the trainers we wanted to attract – it enabled everyone who saw it to know there was a place for them in our ranks. Our talent pool grew, the topics we cover expanded and the fresh perspectives have fundamentally changed how we teach some skills.

Shining a light

It was like a light coming on. We suddenly saw that as an organisation we needed to practice diversity and inclusion continuously versus addressing it with a one-time approach. It needed to permeate everything. But how to do it? How do you make such a shift in the culture of your business? The key is getting outside of yourself and consciously looking for the hidden biases that are stopping you from advancing your workforce—in every aspect of your business. To accomplish that, every person in every division of your organisation needs to understand that this practice is an expectation in everything they attempt.

Taking a stand

Practicing diversity also means not just having people in the room, but also making sure their voices are heard, something that has always been especially hard for women. For years, women have taken a back seat, they haven’t applied for the job because they are couple of years short on experience or they don’t speak up in meetings because their answer might not be perfect. But we need to move past these gender constructs, stand up, take risks and make our voices heard.

This is not to say that employers don’t need to also create these opportunities for women, it is a two-way street, and actions speak louder than words. At O’Reilly, we focus on hiring the best person for the job – no matter the gender – and foster a culture of respect and equality. This has led to 47% of our employees, more specifically 60% of our new hires in 2019, and 50% of our executive team being women.

A work in progress

Everyone on our event team has built diversity and inclusion into their decision making. It is not an after-the-fact exercise, but instead a discipline practiced every day in every decision.

Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and we still have a way to go. We’re not the only company working to bring inclusivity and diversity to our business, and the competition for candidates is intense. So, we work hard to build a great culture—one that makes us a terrific place for everyone to work. Where we live by a set of ethical operating principles, constantly seeking to promote from within, and growing talent by providing opportunity regardless of gender, race, religion, age, orientation, or disability. By practicing diversity and inclusion. Every day.

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