All countries are obliged, under international law, to fulfil legal requirements to respect our basic human rights and to protect individuals from discrimination, and we, as individuals, also have a moral obligation to care for, respect and treat people fairly regardless of the perceived differences or similarities between us.
Committing to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals under specific diversity areas can be a very challenging task due to the biases we hold against or in favour of others, whether we are conscious of them or unconscious.
Let’s have a look at some of the common areas of diversity that we can expect to see advocacy for in today’s leading companies and how neglecting inclusive policies can affect people’s employability in the world today:
This refers to an individual’s identity as belonging to a specific group, which is perceived to look different, and often be inferior or superior, to one’s own race. Notions of racial inferiority have long been held against specific populations on account of darker skin tones, while populations with lighter skin tones are seen as superior. These ideas constitute the basis of modern racism and it is important to note that there is no genetic, biological or other type of evidence to support such discriminatory claims. In fact, a person with visual impairment would not be able to tell the difference between two members of completely different population groups, thus proving that racism is a constructed bias, not an inherent one.
Sex refers to the biological and genetic differences between males and females, such as reproductive organs and chromosomes. There is a masculine sex and a feminine sex. Gender, on the other hand, is about the cultural roles and identities associated with members of the different sexes. Gender is harder to define as it focuses on how individuals identify themselves in relation to such roles.
While today’s most dominant cultures acknowledge two genders –male and female- which match the two biological sexes, there are many other cultures where three or more genders are incorporated into their cultural and social make-up and where an individual’s worth and respect is not based on their ability to embrace a gender role but on their achievements and contributions towards the well-being of the larger group.
Although not all cultures recognise and respect such differences, the fact that many individuals worldwide experience a mismatch between their sex and their gender should be acknowledged and respected. In many instances, these individuals undergo therapy and even surgery in order to better align their gender role with the corresponding sex organs and they face unbelievable amounts of discrimination from society due to a lack of understanding and respect.
Sexual orientation is also different from the concepts of sex and gender, as it focuses on an individual’s biological tendency to be attracted to a member of the same or of the opposite sex.
Age discrimination is the belief that an individual cannot perform their duties or does not have the necessary knowledge due to being too young or too old. Unfair criticism at work on the perceived bias that young people lack the good judgement that an older employee may have is a common example of discrimination against a younger employee, while being turned down for certain physical jobs such as construction or machine handling due to a perceived bias that older people are weaker would be an example of discrimination against older people.
Age discrimination is not just about how we treat people at work but also about the way we advertise jobs (asking for a certain number of years’ experience can make some jobs impossible to attain by younger applicants) as well as the language we use to refer to people. Words such as ‘kid’ or ‘grandpa’ clearly refer to the age of an individual and are derogatory in nature.
Disability refers to a wide range of physical or mental impairments which may or may not affect our ability to perform at work. People with disabilities are, more often than not, able to work and perform well with some degree of support, whether it is suitable access to a building for wheelchair users or adaptations to the way information is shared within and without an office for people with visual or hearing impairment.
Disability is an important aspect of diversity and inclusion as it ensures that external stakeholders with disabilities are also involved and catered for, thus making the company a more attractive business partner or employer.
Culture refers to the social and cultural traditions of a group or groups of people, while religion focuses on the beliefs a people share about creation, life and death. It is possible for members of different cultures to belong to the same religion, as it is the case today with the major three monotheistic religions, which are spread over the world and practised by members of a wide range of cultures and identities.
In many countries, minority groups are discriminated against for their religious belief or cultural background. These differences in the way we view people as belonging to groups different from ours not only can result in discriminatory ideologies and political views but also in discriminatory practices in the workplace.
While some of the concepts presented here might contradict many people’s beliefs, it is important to remember that the workplace should be a safe environment where individuals are respected and valued for their contributions to their teams and to business operations at large. Thus, there should be no room for judgement, much less for discrimination or bullying on any such grounds.
It is thus essential for any employer to ensure that the values of the company reflect international law and the non-discriminatory values that hold all people equal. It is the employer’s responsibility to create a safe working environment where all its workers are treated equally and with dignity.