‘Diversity and Inclusion’ (D&I) is becoming a ‘policy’ that many Boards have decided to adopt. This is good. However, as in ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR), one has to see what the terms really mean. Is it just nice language? Politically correct window dressing? Or real policy?
The answer is in what you see. If D&I is mainly translated into more women on the Board, or CSR consists exclusively of a green quota of some sort, then it is window dressing. If the policies are much broader, then intentions are more serious.
Even with well-developed and broad policies, people tend to get lost in the difference between policy and behaviours. You can impose a quota on women on the Board, yet women may continue to be treated as second-class citizens elsewhere in the organization. Policy can be ‘imposed’, behaviours can’t. Behaviours are copied in the environment. It’s Homo Imitans in action. If you have a climate of intolerance, a twenty page policy document will be unlikely to change that.
Tackling ‘intolerant behaviours’ in the case of D&I, is more important and more powerful than a D&I compliance policy. But intolerance is a defence mechanism. We can be intolerant in order to protect ourselves against a potential attack on our identity, our boundaries. When intolerance is part of the societal DNA, it is very difficult to breed any D&I in the organization.
Tolerance shaped in the schools will deal with intolerance in the community and ultimately the organization. The education system is the key.
Society knows intolerance well. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, today, in 2014, you can see pubs with a ‘Locals Only’ sign, directed at the large Eastern European immigrant communities. Not too many years ago, in English pubs you could see the sign ‘No Blacks or Irish’. In my father’s generation, immigrant Spanish workers were second class citizens in Germany. When the Spaniards became middle class citizens in Germany, the Turks took over their place. We never solved the question of intolerance, we just traded it off.
Back to Belfast of our days, in the Catholic, nationalist Falls Road, there is a mural of Mr. Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein’s Republican politician historically associated with the IRA, that says ‘Pacemaker, leader, visionary’. On the other side, Rev. Mervyn Gibson, chaplain for the Protestant Orange Order said: “Sadly, it’s not a memorial mural!
Deep rooted intolerance will only be addressed by behaviours adopted and mimicked. For the social side, this may require fresh generations influenced by a healthy educational experience but for organizations, surely we can be more ambitious in putting non negotiable behaviours in the place of tolerating intolerance.