Conversations and demonstrations over diversity and inclusion are taking place all over the world, and for good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and revealed previously existing inequalities. It has also disrupted businesses, with many going into survival mode. Organisations may be tempted to shift their focus away from inclusion and diversity, even though it is needed now more than ever. To discuss how organisations can create inclusion in the workplace, we sat down with serial entrepreneur Chisom Udeze, the Founder of Diversify and HerSpace in Oslo, Norway.
It’s easy for companies to make statements about diversity, but how can we encourage organisations to not just speak about diversity but actually prioritize it?
Diversity and inclusion these days are fashionable buzz words. Sometimes I wonder if people and companies truly understand what it means. As a company or as an individual, you can speak about inclusion all you want, but if it is not reflected in your workplace, your leadership team, or your close friendships, actions speak louder than words.
To encourage organisations to be inclusive, it has to begin at the top. There has to be buy-in from the leadership team. If the leadership team does not truly value diversity, it will be an uphill battle trying to incorporate it. Inclusivity should be integrated into the organisation’s core values to attract a more diverse pool of people, and to make your company accountable for its actions. You can start by using inclusive language when communicating with your team and with the public.
Where relevant you can create safe spaces, for example lactation rooms for mothers, prayer rooms, non-binary bathrooms, quiet work places, encouraging wheelchair accessibility, etc. Invest in diversity training from individuals and organisations who truly understand how inclusion works. Continue to learn, unlearn, and relearn and listen to your employees. So on how to encourage companies to actually do diversity? In the famous words of Nike ‘Just Do It’. It positively serves your business, it’s good for your bottom line, the ROI is unmatched, it strengthens your brand. You know, Just Do It!
Another issue is unconscious bias in the recruitment process. How can organisations unlearn stereotypes and avoid unconscious bias?
The thing about unconscious biases is that we all have them. Our brain automatically tells us that we are safe with people who look, think, and act similar to us. So naturally we gravitate towards them. These automatic preferences and prejudices that our brain utilises to process a significant amount of information are what we call biases. So unconscious bias is a primary contributor to creating a homogeneous workplace, a sameness in thinking in society. It does not enable diversity or innovation. So what can we do to get rid of it?
First we must accept that we all have it. The first step to solving a problem is accepting that it exists. Those who are in position to hire, should monitor their behaviour. Always ask yourself, are my decisions objective, do I have all the facts? Or was unconscious bias at play? Pay particular attention to biases related to age, disability, gender, sexuality, religion. Refrain from making assumptions or following your gut instinct. Most times we say “I really need to follow my gut instinct,” but that can really fail us.
I would also like to mention that through my organisation Diversify, we are also running a nationwide project called Springboard. We are travelling to major cities across Norway to address and amplify visibility on the challenges skilled immigrants have in securing work. In doing so, we are also teaching participants skills that they need to start and grow their own businesses. Springboard also validates the experiences that people have in Norway. We see them, we don’t always have solutions or answers, but we hear them. Through Springboard, we are creating a meeting place for people from different backgrounds who might ordinarily have never met each other. We are building bridges that break barriers and facilitate understanding and that can hopefully reduce unconscious bias.
You have mentioned before that diversity efforts are a two-way street. Certain groups are under-represented in the labour market, and some say that that language and cultural barriers are the leading factors in this. How can companies bridge these gaps?
There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to issues like this. I think that we must address them on a case-by-case basis with some specificity. I think this is also where we can touch on equality vs equity. People do not need the same things at the same time. So it is important to meet each individual where they are. Language and cultural barriers play a big role in the lack of opportunities that we face, for example, moving to a new country, trying to secure work while trying to learn a new language is no easy feat. People do not have the luxury of fully immersing themselves in intensive courses for 6 months because they have to work.
I think it’s great that language courses are being provided free of charge to many people here in Norway depending on their immigration status. Nonetheless, it would be great to provide more flexible options for skilled immigrants. For example, I recently read about a company here in Norway that provides language training twice a week for its employees during work hours. This is a fantastic and inclusive initiative but I think that expats, immigrants, and trailing spouses must also take some responsibility. If you really want to integrate, then do your best to learn the language and learn about the culture. Diversity and integration are a two way street.
You recently created HerSpace, a diverse and inclusive community of women and mothers to work, connect, belong, pursue wellness and thrive in Oslo. Can you tell us more about it and what you hope to achieve?
I founded HerSpace for many reasons. The most obvious reason being that as a new mom and as a woman, I couldn’t find a truly diverse and inclusive co-working space and community for women, mothers, working mothers and their children. So I thought, “why not create my own?” At HerSpace, along with an eclectic offering of events and resources, we also offer a play space for children, so moms can work, exercise, and relax knowing that their children are safe. The co-working space and community is exclusive only to women, but the community membership is open to all genders, especially when we have events pertaining to children, we think both moms and dads should be part of the process.
I want HerSpace to be a community where people thrive and grow their businesses, where they can come to learn and have difficult conversations. With HerSpace, I hope to achieve a truly inclusive space, a community where everyone can come to belong knowing fully well that they are valued.
So if you are a female entrepreneur, looking for a space with like-minded individuals or if you just need advice and good people to speak to, reach out to us!
What final thoughts would like to leave us with?
Diversity and inclusion has to be an intentional process. I hear so many community leaders, companies, and individuals talk about diversity and how they are passionate about it. Yet, their actions don’t reflect their passions. I hear hiring managers say that when they hire people, they don’t care who applies, that anyone can apply, so the best candidates that apply get the job. I think this is just as confusing and counterproductive as saying ‘I don’t see colour.’ I understand that the intention is good, but the effect and the corresponding results aren’t so inclusive.
Not caring about who applies, who is in your social or professional circle — as an individual who champions diversity — is perhaps the incorrect approach. Instead, you should care, because caring makes you aware, and awareness and education makes you more knowledgable and you will have the tools to be more inclusive.
How might this manifest in the hiring process? When putting out a job advertisement, for example, indicate that you strongly encourage people from multicultural and minority backgrounds or with disabilities to apply. It makes a difference in the talent pool you attract and in the applications for that position. Sometimes people argue, incorrectly so in my opinion, that including this type of language facilitates people who are not qualified for the position to secure jobs just on the basis of filling a quota. But I disagree with this.
I think that there are billions of people out there across different diversity parameters who are highly skilled and can get the job done. So don’t hire a diverse team to fill quotas, hire a diverse team to grow your company, remain innovative, and increase your bottom line.
Thank you, Chisom!
Please note you can also watch the video recording of this interview here.
About Chisom Udeze
Chisom Udeze is the Founder of Diversify, HerSpace and Mettle Consult. She is an economist and entrepreneur who holds multiple undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Originally from Nigeria, she has lived and worked in six countries across three continents. In addition to actively building and driving growth at her companies, Udeze works as a consultant for intergovernmental organizations and SMEs across industry sectors. She is highly skilled in areas such as strategy, research, project design and execution, data analysis, and monetization.
Recently, she became one of the jury members for the Business Diversity Awards in Norway.
About Business for Peace
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