When Diversity is the Elephant in the Room: What Command Leaders Need to Know

Is diversity and inclusion the elephant in the boardroom at your organization? As a workplace diversity consultant at Mosaic Cross Cultural Solutions (www.crossculturalmosaic.com) I have been in the workplace when the issue of diversity is raised, either by myself or by a colleague, only to be met with a deafening silence. These days, the topic of diversity is often met with heated debates. Remember Oscar So White controversy? Diversity remains the elephant in the corporate boardroom for several reasons:

  1. First, there is a racialized person present in the workplace and staff may be afraid of offending this person(s). I use the term “offend” carefully since the concern often centres around “political correctness” rather than unpacking the issue at hand.
  2. Second, colleagues may not be well versed about issues of diversity and inclusion and may be concerned about coming off as “racist” or unenlightened. This is an issue that must be dealt with honestly and carefully, as uncomfortable as it may be.
  3. Third, the issue may be seen as contentious and threatening to some staff. In some workplaces, diversity may be as taboo as talking about religion or politics. If this is the case, the question then becomes, how do we address an issue as important as diversity and inclusion (D&I) if its mere suggestion creates tension and uneasiness?

Here are my thoughts and please feel free to disagree with me:

  1. First, D&I issues must become part of the everyday conversation of the workplace in the same manner that topics such as sales targets, recruitment, hiring and budget cuts are tackled.
  2. When D&Is issues are raised, staff members must be encouraged to engage in meaningful dialogue, even if they clumsily stumble through some of their ideas, need to be corrected or must patiently listen to viewpoints that they disagree with.
  3. Third, D&I issues must be examined on a consistent and ongoing basis throughout the course of the year and not simply when something “goes wrong”. Diversity and inclusion cannot be viewed as a crisis. All too often, organizations wait until an employee files a human rights complaint or someone leaves the organization citing racism or sexual harassment before seriously addressing such important issues. By the time a complaint is lodged, talk (and fiery gossip) is akin to adding gasoline to an already blazing fire!
  4. Finally, all employees should be able to speak with confidence about D&I issues that impact the workplace, even if there is a designated D&I Officer or Senior Administrator in charge of rolling out the strategy.
  5. Make D&I issues a priority and part of a larger strategic plan that will lead your organization to even greater levels of inclusion over the next 3-5 years. An inclusive workplace will pay dividends in increased productivity and satisfaction amongst your staff.

Now that you have been tasked with heading up diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives at your organization, dealing with the emotional aspect of this topic will be an ongoing task. Diversity and inclusion stirs up a myriad of emotions including anger, fear, apprehension and resentment. As you move forward in your leadership role, keep in mind that D&I projects must pay attention to both the business case for diversity and the emotional side of managing change. One of the first steps to managing diversity in the workplace is to determine the current state of affairs. Now that we’ve dealt with the emotional side of diversity and inclusion, let’s turn our attention to the existing climate at your organization. In a future blog post, we will look at a short “inclusiveness gauge” survey to see where your organization currently stands with respect to diversity and inclusion issues.

Are there other issues that may be silencing diversity and inclusion at your police service organization? Let us know about them below.

Dr. Anita Jack-Davies, Program Founder

As a Workplace Diversity Consultant I often work with clients in charge of DEI (diversity, equity & inclusion). I was moved to develop the Badges2Bridges program after working with Alan. Alan was a new Staff Sergeant in charge of a new DEI unit at his police service. When we first met to talk about how I might support his work, I could tell that he was not only nervous about his new role, but unsure about this new world of cross-cultural understanding that I was asking him to know. Keeping Alan in mind, I set out to create a program that he, and other officers like him, could use as a resource as they develop and implement DEI measures for their organizations. Alan was trained as a police officer. The DEI sector was new to him. He wanted to do well, even though he knew that he was embarking on training in a new sphere that took him out of his comfort zone. Alan and I worked together on a few DEI projects over a two year timeframe. With each project, I learned from Alan in the same way that he learned from me. I watched as his confidence and commitment to DEI measures increased. Eventually, Alan was promoted because it was clear that his commitment to DEI issues extended far beyond his role. Looking back on his growth, I realized that other officers and leaders also need support in their DEI efforts. It is my hope that they will turn to Badges2Bridges as a training resource that will supplement what they already receive at the police college and in their annual training.

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