Establishing an Ethical Organization Environment
This is the first of two blogs on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The second blog will be posted on June 16.
Organizational ethical climate refers to the moral atmosphere of the work environment and the level of ethics practiced within a company. Leaders determine organizational climate, establish character, and define norms. Character plays an important role in leadership. Leaders of good character have integrity, courage, and compassion. They are careful and prudent. Their decisions and actions inspire employees to think and act in a way that enhances the well-being of the organization, its people, and society in general.
We hear a lot about equity these days. It tends to be thought of as one of three key values necessary in the twenty-first century workplace: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. EDI loosely means to give each person the same opportunity, accepting people from different races, genders, religions, and nationalities, and inviting those who have been historically locked out of society to come in. EDI policies can help promote ethical behavior and mitigate cognitive biases that might influence the fair treatment of all people.
Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion are often viewed the same way. However, there are important differences. The U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management indicates that diversity is hiring and retaining employees that “reflect America’s diversity,” while inclusion is making them feel motivated, and a true part of the organization.
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means to treat each person as unique and to recognize our individual differences. It means understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and to celebrating the rich dimensions of individuality. A diverse workforce is one where similarities and differences among employees in terms of different dimensions are molded together to produce the best outcome.
Inclusion has often been defined in the context of a society that leaves no one behind. It is one in which the cultural, economic, political, and social life of all individuals and groups can take part. The United Nations Report, Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, points out: An inclusive society is one that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity, as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.
Equality versus Equity
People tend to think about equality of opportunity and fairness in treatment as one and the same. It means having the same rights, social status, etc. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. But when we place it next to equity, that’s when the lines get blurred. Equity can be thought of in terms of equal opportunity that fits a person’s circumstances and abilities. It may mean giving a group of people different access to resources, as with disabled individuals who deserve special access for entry or different testing procedures in the classroom. In the workplace, it means to provide accommodations as needed.
A good analogy is to think of runners sprinting around an oval track during a competition. The concept of equality would mean treating runners the same way; having them start at the same place on the track. While this may seem fair at first, we quickly realize that those starting from an inside position have an advantage over runners in the outside lanes because the distance they must travel is shorter. As a result, equality—starting at the same place—doesn’t result in fairness. The concept of equity would mean the starting positions should be staggered so runners in the outer lanes have an equal chance to win the competition. In this case, different or tailored treatment leads to fairness and justice, not the same treatment.
Components of EDI Initiatives
Creating a sense of belonging at work is the outcome of three mutually reinforcing attributes. Workers should feel comfortable at work, including being treated fairly and respected by their colleagues. They should feel connected to the people they work with and the teams they are part of. Lastly, they should feel that they contribute to meaningful work outcomes—understanding how their unique strengths are helping their teams and organizations achieve common goals.
Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey results offer support for this view. Twenty-five percent of survey respondents identified fostering an environment where workers feel they are treated fairly and can bring their authentic selves to work (feeling comfortable) as the biggest driver of belonging. Thirty-one percent said that having a sense of community and identifying with a defined team (feeling connected) was the biggest driver. And 44 percent reported that feeling aligned to the organization’s purpose, mission, and values and being valued for their individual contributions (feeling their contributions matter) was the biggest driver of belonging at work.
EDI policies are an integral part of ethics because the way we treat people with different demographic characteristics says a lot about the culture of an organization. The underlying principles of fairness and justice provide the foundation for EDI policies. The virtues of caring, kindness, and empathy should drive behavior in an ethical organization that wants to be known as a welcoming and supportive place to work.
EDI Policies Are a Must in Every Organization
Why have diversity and inclusion efforts become so important? One answer is, in today’s global business environment, it is common to have a diverse workforce that needs to be managed in ways that recognize equity and fairness in treatment. A diverse workforce poses challenges in the way people of different religions, genders, generations, and other types of diversity blend together to create an ethical corporate culture that values individuals from many walks of life.
The Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey indicates that 93 percent of respondents believe a sense of belonging drives organizational performance. This coincides with a 2019 survey by Better Up which found that workplace belonging can lead to a 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent reduction in the risk of turnover, and a 75 percent decrease in the number of employees calling in sick. They also found that one single incidence of a micro-exclusion can result in a 25 percent reduction in productivity. Yet, despite the importance of belonging, only 13 percent of respondents to the survey reported being ready to address this. Solving diversity challenges is very difficult. Also, trending upward is a focus on eliminating measurable bias from talent processes, including hiring, promotion, performance management, leadership development, succession, and compensation.
In the Deloitte 2017 Inclusion Pulse Survey it was found that 72 percent of working Americans would or may consider leaving an organization for one they think is more inclusive. Thirty percent of millennials surveyed say they have already left a job for one with a more inclusive culture.88
EDI policies are significantly more important in the twenty-first century than ever before. One reason is young adults and millennials have grown up in a culture that talks about these issues even though they may be lacking in reality. Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey reports that diversity and inclusion at the workplace are CEO-level issues, but they continue to be frustrating for many companies.
Effective EDI policies help to create an ethical culture by valuing the contribution of each individual and treating them as members of a community. The expectations are high for an inclusive environment and the failure to create one can have negative consequences as the survey results indicate.
At the end of the day, a successful EDI program depends on the ethical leadership of top managers and the ethical tone at the top. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, poet, and philosopher, said, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on June 14, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.