Overcoming Top Diversity and Inclusion Obstacles in Business

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Thursday, May 13, 2021
Div Pillay, CEO and co-founder of MindTribes Pty Ltd and AACSB 2021 Influential Leader, shares her tips on how organizations can overcome five main obstacles to achieving more diverse and inclusive environments. Pillay is a graduate of Monash Business School - Monash University, in Australia.
Recorded virtually in February 2021.


Div Pillay: [0:15] I see obstacles right through, even in conversations with clients. I've thought about this a lot. I've got my top five obstacles, and I'll go through them quickly.

[0:31] My top five, the first one is that people see the diversity and inclusion effort in silos or in pillars. Let's solve for gender first. Then we'll get to sexual orientation and then we'll get to disability and then we'll get to race and culture.

[0:54] First, let's start with gender. Gender has been used as a proxy to understand other indicators, which I get. It's easy data to grab, so it's very easy to count male or female in an employee demographic.

[1:13] That being said, we're at the stage in the diversity and inclusion effort where, when you see it just in pillars, you are disengaging the rest of the diversity identifiers. The intersectional diversity gets lost in the numbers.

[1:35] You don't account, for example, for women of color. You don't account for women with a disability, necessarily, because you're not looking for that deeper intersectional layer of diversity.

[1:50] We say the time has come to look at diversity and inclusion from an intersection perspective. Wherever that intersection creates disadvantage, that's your hot spot to solve for, and that's where you should be focusing in on. That's the first one. My pet hate is looking at it in silos.

[2:11] The second one flows on from that. People who are in charge of diversity and inclusion efforts seeing some areas of diversity as far too complex to touch. Before the Black Lives Matters movement, we saw the conversations carrying some of that fear when it came to race and cultural inclusion.

[2:33] It was almost like in the too hard basket, and people were fearing racial profiling when they were collecting data. They almost didn't want to go there until they had a lot of that dialogue sorted internally, so they never did anything. Especially from an Australia and Asia Pacific context, it was easier to stick on the gender lane and very hard to look into race and cultural diversity.

[3:08] Now we're seeing that conversation pick up a little bit. I'm a bit hopeful with that.

[3:13] The third one is people only working at diversity being representative. You must have heard the conversations around targets and quotas. Again, while that's really good, it only works at representational diversity, so can we count the number of women in a senior executive or board? Then can we go for 50/50 balance with genders?

[3:43] Yes, we can, but the problem underlying is that we're not creating inclusive cultures. There's diversity, and then there's inclusion. I find that there's a huge, heavy effort on the diversity side and not enough on the building inclusive culture side.

[4:02] That needs to be worked out. Otherwise, we lose women when they get to a senior executive or board role and they still don't find that the environment is inclusive enough. We are seeing women exit those roles because they'd rather spend their time more meaningfully and impactfully somewhere else, so watch out for that.

[4:23] The fourth one is people seeing that the investment in diversity and inclusion is secondary to any other business investment.

[4:38] It's because the diversity and inclusion strategy is not linked to the business strategy, and that needs to be repaired. Without the proper investment, it then becomes a siloed activity by the head of people and culture, who is under resourced, who is likely not having a budget attached to it. Generally, that change effort falls away.

[5:03] The fifth one flows on again from that because diversity and inclusion is a change effort. What we're not seeing from clients is the long range planning, so what will horizon one look like? What will horizon two look like? How do you plan for that change?

[5:27] It's not enough to do celebratory or milestone events on a calendar and then not work at the D&I change behind the scenes.

[5:39] My pet hate is also celebrating International Women's Day, which is coming up in March. In Australia, we celebrate Harmony Day, which is the 21st of March, which is the Elimination of Race Discrimination Day. We in Australia celebrate multiculturalism, which is good but then ignores the effort that we need to make on eliminating race discrimination.

[6:06] Those are my five obstacles. I call them pet hates. I'm hoping that people almost use that as a checklist of what not to do. I'm hoping that's helpful.

The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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