Conferences can be beauty contests, at times. The first large National Diversity Conference in Lithuania, however, decided to also address critical issue right at the beginning.
Welcoming and celebrating the achievements of the main partners of the Lithuanian Diversity Charter was a natural way to kick-off their 2019 Conference. The Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, the EU representative and the major of Vilnius showed the importance of the initiative and Swedbank, the hosting company, set the scene from a business perspective.
A deeper look
Do we really know what stands behind diversity? How to understand diverse markets? How to include more sensitive issues? What does it mean to have a holistic D&I approach? The conference very clearly aimed high in terms of getting beyond obvious questions and leverage the learning from other countries. Consequently, experts from Latvia, the UK and Germany provided their input at the beginning of the event.
What to avoid on your journey
Myths, mistakes or mediocrity: The European D&I Engineer, Michael Stuber, took the opportunity to call a spade a spade and presented common assumptions and corresponding evidence from his pan-European research and consulting work.
- His key-note (17 minutes) can be watched online at https://youtu.be/9YOdwDAAvbE
- One of his interviews is available online (in Lithuanian) at https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/verslas/4/1096248/ekspertas-is-vokietijos-pataria-darbe-skatinti-ivairove-tai-labiausiai-neisnaudotas-potencialas
- An English interview he gave on the occasion of the Conference is cited below.
A summary report of the conference and more information on the Lithuanian Diversity Charter can be found here
“Everybody is part of Diversity”
Background Interview on Diversity & Inclusion for the First Lithuanian Diversity Conference
Question: How you, being the pioneer of diversity, would describe diversity in a workplace?
Michael Stuber: As a summary, I would say Diversity is the biggest untapped potential in most workplaces. However, we must acknowledge that Diversity alone does not provide benefits. An open mind-set – individually, in teams and in the culture – is required at first and has to be combined with inclusive processes and behaviours to unleash the power the Diversity.
Question: What does it mean for enterprise’s leaders, employees or clients?
- For managers, Diversity offers an opportunity to better manage the increasingly complex future. Innovation, change, cross-functional teams and international collaboration are improved when Diversity is effectively managed.
- For employees, Diversity means that their talents and needs are recognized in the best possible way and that collaboration in teams runs smoothly.
- For clients, Diversity means that they will be served as individuals and not in a one size fits all manner. Products, advertisement, websites and shops will acknowledge existing differences.
Question: How has the definition and perception on diversity changed throughout the years? Is the situation in society and the business world better now than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago?
Michael Stuber: We clearly see two diverging trends: On the one hand, populism and filter bubbles have led to a polarization and to real attacks on the freedom and dignity of people – mostly women or minorities. On the other hand, we today understand much better what it takes to value diversity, to promote inclusion and to achieve belonging. This allows shortcuts for companies starting today – compared to those we worked with 20 years ago.
Question: Can you describe the situation in our region? How Lithuania and other Baltic countries stand out (or not) in regards to diversity?
Michael Stuber: Each country has its specific history which determines the present culture to a large extent. Understanding the longer heritage and recent influences provides the base to understand a country’s position in D&I. Lithuania, while it is historically different from the other Baltic States, has a shared recent history of liberation from Soviet dominance and recent EU membership. Our comparative pan-European analysis in 2016 found a particular focus on Age and Disability in two of the Baltic states while other diversity topics were less actively addressed. Diversity can be seen as a mediator of business, societal and political trends – increasingly influenced by the Public discourse, e.g. social media.
Question: How does diversity in a workplace pay off? How to measure the tangible results of the implementation of diversity and inclusion?
Michael Stuber: Creating value from diversity requires a lot more than just celebrating differences. It requires people, teams and organisations to understand where they may have blind spots, reservations, biases or unintentionally exclusive processes or behaviours. Once the good intention is combined with real inclusion, companies can be sure to experience higher productivity, more innovation, better market penetration and improved reputation, e.g. on the labour market or in Public. These benefits are proven in more than 250 robust studies, not including the simplistic surveys.
Question: What are the most common mistakes employers make in diversity?
Michael Stuber: The first and natural mistake is to focus too much on difference or outsiders which can quickly become divisive. Secondly, many are so enthusiastic about the business case that they forget about the reasons, i.e. barriers and biases, why today’s situation has emerged. These points can also lead to a social-support attitude for marginalized or disadvantaged groups while the bigger issue is to understand the rules, dynamics and privileges of the mainstream system. The latest mistake is what I call copy-and-past-blueprints which is very common in Corporate Networks. Companies would never do that in any serious business topic area and it concerns me that many do not go through the necessary analysis – that we call Engineering D&I – to deduct the solutions they need.
Question: Is it true that diversity in a company is not necessarily the matter for HR department? What would change after moving diversity and inclusion topics to leaders, strategy-changing decision makers?
Michael Stuber: Diversity can start in different places at company. We have seen some that first launched Diversity marketing and then expanded internally. Others might start in an innovation unit and branch out from there. What they all find is that in HR, there is a large amount of fundamentals to be covered. We call that mainstreaming D&I into Recruiting, Development and Retention processes and practices. In order to see sustained benefits, any organisation will have to work on their culture and on leadership related to D&I.
Question: Once more, focusing on the definition of diversity. Is there anyone who could not be described as diverse? How (and should we) change the perception that diversity is not about us, who never stand out regarding race, age or sexual orientation?
Michael Stuber: Everybody has an individual background, perspective and talents, and very clearly is part of the holistic Diversity framework. D&I training, events, employee networks and campaigns should clearly reflect this. However, we know that this has often not been the case (and the focus on women and minorities made the so-called straight-white-fully-abled-middle-aged-male feel bad, excluded and eventually disadvantaged). Rigid quota politics, inflated demonstrations or excessive multi-culturalism have overwhelmed many people who are now opponents to D&I (and we have seen prominent examples like the Google Memo Case and real backlash).
Therefore, one of our work foci is to redesign Diversity programmes in a way that they are broadly set up and contribute benefits to the business agenda at the same time.