Now we need some action, please

Blog post

The discussion on diversity has never been as prominent as it is now. Nowadays one rarely needs to justify the financial and human value of diversity in the work community or the importance of a more inclusive working life. So everything is better now than before, right?

Well, yes – and no. We might have learned how to talk about diversity, but the talk is not followed by action. Very few companies are procuring training to achieve diversity or consider diversity as a serious competitive asset. It is not prioritised, and no resources are allocated to it. This can be seen in how uncommonly uniform our workplaces are in terms of gender, nationality, age and educational background. This is not only a weakness but also a major risk factor, especially when operating in international markets.

Could one reason for the lack of action be that admitting to diversity-related problems is uncomfortable? Donning the rainbow colours as part of the positive equality campaigns on LinkedIn is becoming standard procedure. But when blacked out images dominated my other social media channels this spring, Finnish LinkedIn remained silent. Here in the North we like to talk about the future, brimming with positive images, and not the present mired in discrimination and racism.

Correction of flawed structures requires admitting the existence of the problems. And we surely have those. Finnish companies remain stunningly stereotypical and prejudicial when recruiting immigrants, for example. Frighteningly often we connect our conceptions of an employee’s industriousness, language skills and cultural similarity to our Western neighbours, while the positive connotations fade the further away from Finland we move geographically. We cloak our prejudices into a desire to find a “culturally compatible” employee and ground our language requirements on assumptions of customer needs – often without charting the actual situation in any real way.

Diversity is not progressed by decorating the company logo with rainbow colours or adding people from minorities into brand images. But it doesn’t require major strategic declarations or changes to the big picture either. Diversity is built piece by piece when each individual or employee begins to actively focus on their blind spots and starts to lead others by example.

If you are a recruiter: how is the realisation of diversity considered in recruitment? Are your requirements for the employee’s language skills or existing competencies actually relevant? And what about you in a managerial position? How do your management practices take the diversity of the staff into account? What do you do when forming a project team? Those working with products: who gets to test them? On what grounds is the development of product features prioritised? There is no function for which diversity-related problems cannot be found and where actively solving them is not possible.

The time of merely offering encouragement on the level of ideas is passing. Our diverse workforce requires actions. What will be your first step?

Maria Kultanen

The writer is a bioengineer on a mission to spread the word of more ethical tech, diverse & equal workplaces and leadership that celebrates inclusivity. During office hours she is making preventative healthcare a reality.