Katriina Tahka
April 10, 2023
Diversity & Inclusion, workplace culture

Together: A Diversity Narrative that is built on Connection not Difference

‘Together’ was the theme of #TEDxSydney 2016.  The incredible line up of (dare I say!) diverse speakers sparked in me the big idea that we need a new human narrative about diversity and in this we have a lot to learn from starfish. Yes starfish. But more precisely, the complex natural systems that all living things are a part of and the ecosystem that connects everyone and everything.

Why is it that when you say ‘biodiversity’ everyone thinks of coral, starfish, seaweed, beehives and complex natural systems that are highly vulnerable and dependent upon one another; and yet when you say diversity in relation to humans we tend to think ‘difference’.

Biodiversity is the variety of all life forms on earth – the different plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems of which they are a part. It is a mutualistic model of connection and co-operation which enables all different species to benefit and thrive.

Yet the current narrative on diversity for humans tends to focus on the individual and calls out the differences.

The mainstream practice around diversity in the workplace has focused on counting and measuring ‘different’ groups of people, benchmarking the amounts you have against industry and community norms, trying to figure out why the gap exists and designing potential interventions to reduce the gap. And then re-testing to see if you got more ‘difference’ into the system.

Over the last decade the term ‘inclusion’ has been added into the Australian diversity narrative; but even then the diversity story has really only evolved to focus on attracting all categories of different people and creating a sufficiently inclusive culture so that they hopefully stay in the workplace (or become highly engaged and productive in HR speak).

As much as ‘inclusion’ attempts to add the concept of valuing and respecting all people, at the end of the day difference is still the key theme. With difference comes the inevitable focus on ‘the other’. ‘They’ or you are different and usually in a minority group;  people in the majority will make a special effort to overcome any unconscious biases, behave better and include you.   This tends to evoke a them and us mentality, winners and losers, loss and fear, men v’s women, Eastern v’s Western culture.

How does this story make you feel? If you are a person who is ‘different’ does it make your heart sing with delight, do you feel completely confident and at ease walking into this welcoming dominant majority or is the message somewhat edgy?

Since the 1990’s the business benefit of diversity in the workplace has largely focused on productive diversity. That is, how diverse skills and experience are an asset that can increase engagement and productivity.  What is missing from this is the enormous human health and wellbeing benefits of creating a human ecosystems in which uniqueness is valued and a culture in which unique individuals feel that they truly belong.

It is time for the human narrative on diversity and inclusion to evolve and convey the same degree of interconnection, mutuality and togetherness that biodiversity gives starfish and their fellow colleagues living in the sea.

Together is a distinct narrative from difference.  ‘Together‘ creates an ecosystem of people. We are all a part of it.  In a workplace inclusion context, if we all work together to achieve a sense of belonging or inclusion it is for our mutual health and wellbeing, it is not about special measures for different people.  A human ecosystem does not create or recognise haves and have nots, masters and servants, majority or minority. Everyone. Together.

It’s time to evolve the productive diversity and inclusion narrative and focus on the interconnections within the human ecosystem that we live in, Together.

At A Human Agency we are commited to designing HR differently. We work together with our clients to co-create highly engaging, authentic diversity narratives that drive real change and realise potential.

If you want to know more, join us for one of our Learning Labs or talk to us.

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