At OpenBlend, we love talking about how to improve the employee experience and our recent event at London’s Home House was no exception. We were lucky enough to be joined by Asif Sadiq MBE, Head of D&I for Warner Brothers Discovery, who led an incredibly insightful discussion. Drawing on his own experiences and knowledge, Asif outlined the actionable steps that organisations can take to create inclusive cultures, support diversity, and bring about sustainable change.
In fact, Asif had so many great pieces of advice that distilling them down into just one article was a challenge in itself. There were, however, several recurring and interconnected themes that really resonated with those in the room – and so for this piece, we’ll be focusing on those.
But before we jump into that, one of the most notable points that Asif made was this: diversity is built on an inclusive culture. We so often speak about diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the same breath yet while the two are inherently linked, it’s important to recognise that they are distinct elements - and as Asif explained, the chronology of the two really matters. We need to focus on the inclusion piece first - and it’s why he’s coined the term ‘indiversity’.
1) Belonging is the goal
So looking at inclusion, the ultimate goal is to make every employee feel as though they belong in the organisation. What we’re talking about here is enabling the sense of belonging that comes with working in a psychologically safe team whereby people are encouraged to bring their true selves to work. The kind of environment where people are celebrated for who they are as individuals, and where everyone is given a fair opportunity to progress and reach their full potential.
Of course, to achieve this, employees must be able to express their opinions and ideas without fear of judgement or penalty. This is inclusivity at its best and it forms the critical foundation for both diversity and equity.
2) Always be authentic
Perhaps the biggest faux pas that companies can fall foul to is tokenism. We’ve seen many organisations change their social media logos during Pride, but are these companies actually doing anything besides this to make their LGBTQ+ employees feel included? There’s nothing wrong with reactive shows of support, but as Asif explained, employees also want to see that the proactive groundwork is being done in addition to this. That means employers being actively aware of the issues that people from the LGBTQ+ community face, and ultimately, showing that they care and that they’re committed to effecting positive change.
Likewise, if your company homepage shows a disabled person or someone from an ethnic minority yet your organisation does not employ anyone who shares those identities, your stakeholders will recognise that for what it is: a tokenistic gesture that lacks authenticity.
The key takeaway here is that if you want your people to feel included and to bring their authentic selves to work, the organisation must also act authentically and hold itself to account. It’s a two-way street.
3) Avoid assumptions
Another point that Asif touched on was the importance of avoiding assumptions. As human beings we have multiple layers to our identities. An employee can be both gender-diverse and a carer, for example. Diversity is not a singular thing - and nor is it necessarily a visible characteristic. You cannot tell whether someone has dyslexia simply by looking at them. Similarly, we must avoid grouping employees into a category and assuming they want the same things because they’re the same age, nationality, gender, or otherwise.
The simple fact is that no two employees are the same, even if they have the same physical disability, are both women, and were born in the same year. Rather than making assumptions, we need to enable people to communicate their individual wants and needs in a safe and inclusive environment. This is how we create real awareness and understanding, and it’s how we reduce the harmful stereotypes and microaggressions that prevent progress.
4) Adapt and learn
So communication is obviously a key part of this. It’s about asking questions, yes, but also really listening to the answers so that the organisation - and its people - can continue to adapt and become even more inclusive.
But this won’t happen overnight. It’s a journey and people will inevitably make mistakes along the way. Crucially, though, and where there was positive intent, Asif stressed that these mistakes should be viewed as an opportunity for the individual to rectify their behaviour and even educate others. To achieve that, he explained, the company must work on creating a culture that enables people to make mistakes and be forgiven.
This forgiveness also plays a key role in helping to break down the fear factor that stops many managers and employees from broaching certain subjects or asking questions that could help them to learn and do better. Of course, that’s understandable. People don’t want to get it wrong. They don’t want to cause offence or appear ignorant. Yet if we are to get past this, we need to let people know that it’s ok to get it wrong and be corrected so long as the intention was good.
5) Create the right conversations
“Diversity isn’t that difficult.”
This was one of Asif’s final quotes - and it left us feeling optimistic about the future of ED&I. What Asif was alluding to was that, while there’s still a long way to go, the solution lies in a simple process that organisations of all shapes and sizes can put into place.
The first step involves creating the right conversations in which employees can speak openly and honestly about their feelings and the things they need in order to feel valued and included at work. Most importantly, these discussions should be framed around the issues that matter most to any one individual employee. They should be shaped and led by the employee so that the manager can become aware of their lived experiences and therefore support them in achieving the outcomes that they want and deserve.
Want to talk about enabling effective conversations and supporting ‘indiversity’ in your organisation? Book a discovery call with OpenBlend today.