We all smile in the same language, but still, a lot of people tend to focus on what makes us different, then what unites us. There is overwhelming evidence that modern-day racism persists. Also in the workplace.

Although we tend to be more politically correct these days, we also tend to have more subtle forms of racism in society. Racism at work is common. I wish it wasn’t, but it’s a fact. You might not see, read or hear much about it. Not enough at least. So how do different businesses deal with racism and diversity? How do they create an inclusive and diverse atmosphere?

Diversity in the workplace

Diversity in the workplace is when a company employs a wide range of diverse individuals. Creating a work environment with people that have different characteristics, including gender, age, religion, race, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation, language, education, abilities, etc.

Being a white female myself, I’ve also had to deal with diversity in the workplace. Hold your horses. I can hear you thinking. ‘But you are white, what do you know about discrimination or racism?’ Maybe more than you think, maybe not. I keep on learning. And that’s what life’s about right?

When it comes to working, I was either overqualified for a job or my age was a problem. I was too old, too smart, too introverted. So I created my own job. I started my own company. So I could make a difference and do things my way. I see that happening more and more around me. It’s a sign that things are changing for the better. We’re taking control and making a difference.

My problems are only small compared to the things that I’ve seen happen around me. I am ‘lucky’ that I was born white, in the upper-class, from a Canadian mother and a Dutch father. Being given the opportunity to look away from what was happening around me. Focussing on me, rather than society as a whole. If I could start over, I guess I would have done it differently.

My parents split up when I was 4. And some years after, my mom fell in love with a Curaçaoan. My baby brother was born — I love him so much — and I saw the struggles he had growing up being of color. It gave me a different perspective on my culture and white privilege. I had always thought that that made me ‘colorblind’. That I didn’t notice when someone had color or not. I tried to base my judgment on people by how they behaved.

Discrimination has no borders

Some years ago, I followed subjects in university that were related to cultural diversity. It’s a topic that has always fascinated me on an intrinsic level. Why do I see possibilities in diversity, while others feel the anxiety for the unknown? I could have chosen to look away, or feel angry when being accused of racism myself. But I am not a saint. I don’t think anyone is. I think we all have negative ideas about others to make ourselves look better. Whether we find that in color, sex, religion, or elsewhere.

To get some other insights on diversity, I’ve asked Olivia, from New Zealand, to tell me about her experience when she first started working. I met her abroad in Finland during my studies.

When I first met Olivia I was struck by her creativity and resilience. She is a wheelchair user, but that didn’t stop her from creating her own success. From driving a car, taking the train to snowy Lapland, to finding a job in the media industry. Olivia: “When I started working I went around the office with the office manager to make sure everything was accessible. We checked if I could open and close doors and reach things in the kitchen by myself. Also checking the accessible bathrooms and trying out the height-adjustable desks.”

Olivia, to me, is an example of successful inclusion in the workplace. But sometimes I also feel sad, that this is not the case in many companies. And although she lives in New Zealand, I think companies can see this case as an example of how to do it right. Offering different people the chance of doing what they do well, rather than looking at their ‘limitations’.

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Diversity in the workplace

Benefits of diversity

With a wider pool of talented people, you can expect advantages. It’s diversity in the workplace, that creates a variety of different perspectives. It also creates higher innovation, increased creativity, reduced employee turnover, and a better company reputation. Allowing various people to contribute to a company can create fresh ideas, and room for innovation. A delight for every company, I would say.

But how diverse can your workplace be? Olivia: “There is a program set up for young people with learning disabilities to work with the company. They do jobs that suit their ability and are paid a proper salary. And we also have a cafe inside our office. Ordering coffee from a deaf barista, so we must learn sign language to order a coffee.”

For me, it’s written in stone, that great things come from getting out of your comfort zone. Trying out new things. Expanding your horizon. For one, creating an atmosphere where employees grow. Not only personally, but also culturally. Let’s all start embracing the idea of working together. Rather than working against each other. Just like the company Olivia works at.

Challenges of diversity

Diversity, of course, also comes with its own set of challenges. I would lie if I would say that it’s as easy as learning how to slice a cucumber. It’s more like learning to swim. It takes a lot of practice and patience. It’s also something that grows over time. We try out something, evaluate, make changes, and try again. Especially in the current society, people acknowledge that change is inevitable. Which is also seen from the Black Lives Movement.

According to Ganes, a purpose-driven organization, diversity and inclusivity is still a struggle: “The will to make a change is present, but how and why is still a challenge.” And I think they’re right. It’s that behavioral change, that’s the hardest to make. Not knowing why it’s necessary and how to make the change. I think this is especially the case in big corporations, where company culture is already defined and a lot of employees are used to that way of thinking.

A first step, I think, is to see that change is necessary. A change for the better. A responsibility even. Because even at the place where you spend a lot of time working, you can find yourself dealing with racism and discrimination.

It was an eye-opener for me when studying in Finland, that they told me that I would only get a job there if I spoke Finnish. Since Finland is bilingual — Finnish and Swedish — it was striking to me that language played such an important role in applying for a job. Swedish people were seen as less. It’s not only a responsibility for the employers to diversify, but I feel that it’s the task of everyone. To listen and to start making changes.

How to create a diverse environment

Most companies have an HR-or recruitment department that sets out to hire the best person for the job. However, some companies have still room for improvement. Thinking outside the box is where the company journey should start. Maybe even hire an inclusion officer. Creating limitless possibilities for all.

I guess when it comes to hiring practices, make sure managers don’t stereotype people based on color, race, or religion. Focus on their set of skills. At Squads, we’ve made it one of our key values, to create as a wide talent pool as possible. We’re working with remote workers from anywhere in the world. Because diversity and inclusion for us means more creativity, higher innovation, less employee turnover, and a wide range of perspectives.

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