Whilst the coronavirus pandemic and its challenges have dominated 2020, movements such as ‘Me Too’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ have also been at the forefront and created a heightened need for employers to address diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.
Here, Meena Chander, founder of free virtual diversity and inclusion conference, This Is Us Conference, discusses her own experiences of discrimination and why embracing change and addressing diversity and inclusion is more important now than ever…
“Historically, many organisations have viewed diversity as merely a ‘tick in the box’ but it goes so much further than that. Diversity is about more than just race, gender and sexuality – it’s about embracing the wider person, their skills and their attributes.
“In recent years we have seen more people emerge who have a protected characteristic or come from an underrepresented group, and people in general are becoming stronger and are demanding a voice to speak up about the issues that matter to them.
“Not only that, nowadays, the younger generation are more integrated with society and find discrimination unacceptable and, with the Gen Z generation expected to make up over a quarter the workforce by 2025, it really is time for employers to take note and truly prioritise diversity and inclusion.
“The younger generations are more confident, more educated, and more aware of different groups of people, and they expect things to be more on a level playing field and to be given equal opportunities. They also want diverse role models in organisations and on boards, whether BAME, disabled, LGBT, women – or otherwise, and they expect to have more of a work/life balance so their mental health is less impacted.
“Mental health has been a huge discussion point this year, with many people being adversely affected by the pandemic and spending more time at home, often working in isolation. Mental health and workplace inclusion go hand in hand and looking at one’s mental health and realising some situations can be harmful or negatively impact an employee’s wellbeing is crucial.
“Whilst mental health is spoken about more openly today and there is more help and support available for people with disabilities, there is still a long way to go, especially around intersectionality. In the events and creative industry specifically, I have seen first-hand that there is a severe lack of representation for BAME and LGBT people, and those with any sort of disability.
“As a female, I’ve also been made acutely aware that women face even more challenges when it comes to workplace diversity and inclusion. Not only do many of us have to juggle our careers with significant physical and mental challenges such as pregnancy and menopause, there aren’t very many women who are in senior leadership or board positions compared to men.
“Something clearly needs to change. Women nowadays are just as educated as men, we are stronger and more outspoken than we were, say, 20 years ago, we are living longer and are having longer careers as society is changing. Yet still, we are not at a point where we are equal to men in business. There needs to be a balance of men and women in a boardroom to create that diverse thinking. Men and women are wired differently and have different ways of thinking that can complement each other, and the focus for employers need to be on the skills and attributes of both genders and how they can bring out the best in one another.
“As A BAME, female business leader and mother, in the past I have found myself in workplaces where there was not only a lack of other BAME events professionals, but there was a barrier to my progress compared to more junior or white females. I was even once told by a female boss that I couldn’t be an events manager and a mother. Clearly, I was shocked that another female could say that to me but, thankfully, I was able to prove her wrong. Another boss, this time male, said I should do as I was told and that it was not for me to question anything. Ultimately, these experiences made me stronger and are the reason why I’m so passionate about supporting underrepresented groups and individuals today.
“Moving forwards, I would like to see more BAME leaders in senior positions, and to see evidence that employers are truly starting to take diversity and inclusion seriously. I would like there to be more internal mentorship programmes for employees in organisations, and for employers to close the gap when it comes to recruitment, looking at what other qualities candidates can bring to the table instead of ruling them out because of their gender, age, orientation, or otherwise.
“Finally, I would like to see more events like This Is Us Conference, giving employers the tools and resources they need to understand diversity and inclusion strategies across all areas of their businesses.
“Now, employers have the chance to ensure diversity and inclusion improvements are being addressed at every level. Yes, it’s going to take time, but with the right support and a positive attitude, employers can play an integral role in creating real and lasting change.”
About the author
I am the CEO and founder of an events consultancy and agency called Events Together.
Events Together helps clients plan, manage and deliver their events programmes, and an event could be anything from an away day to a company conference or an international exhibition.
I am also the founder of a social enterprise which focuses on raising the awareness of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace through the platform of conferences and events. Within this I run a mentoring programme for underrepresented groups in the events industry.
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