Virtual Diversity: Is This a Thing?

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In a word? Yes, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are top of the to-do list in most organizations these days. The recent emphasis on having a diverse and inclusive work environment is driven, in part, by social movements in the US and across the globe. The COVID-19 virus changed the way businesses operate; many of us are working from home now.

With diversity, equity, and inclusion taking center stage, leaders and managers have to learn and practice new skills. As leaders and managers, we must remember that we may not be able to change the world, but we can affect change in our work environments. In our workspaces, physical and virtual, we are the policy makers, tone setters, moral boosters, cheer leaders, and role models who staff look to for guidance, motivation, and validation.

Given these new hats we must wear, recognize that shifting to a more diverse and inclusive stance will not happen overnight; it is not a once and done policy change. For anything to become normal, it must be practiced and perfected over time. Leaders and managers must be open to learning if we are going to transform our workplaces. We must first determine what each of these words mean in our respective environments.

Let’s talk about Diversity. At Northcentral university, diversity is framed as a nested model of 5 dimensions with distinct characteristics (see https://livingthelearningcurve.com/2018/06/23/a-look-at-diversity-wheels/). At Johns Hopkins University, diversity is presented as combinations of internal identity features intersecting with external experiences. These are not conflicting models, by any means, these are merely different ways to diagram complexity of defining diversity.

I find it difficult to separate equity from inclusion. The US is a melting pot, and I have always viewed it as a place where inclusion is somewhat unavoidable. The part of the equation that seems to be the most difficult to wrestle with is equity. Becoming equity-minded takes intentionality; we (I) have to make concerted efforts to accomplish this state of being. Living equity-mindedness is difficult because we are humans with a natural and instinctive desire to be better than. If we truly want to be inclusive, being equity-minded must be intentional.

Leaders and managers must share the vision of DEI across the organization. Think of DEI as the layer of freshly fallen rain that covers everything as far as the eye can see. This is a purposeful image because our DEI efforts must be visible and transparent at the same time. Through DEI efforts, we can celebrate achievements by acknowledging the contributions of every team member; we can make sure that each person has opportunity to learn, grow, and advance in our organizations; and we can remove barriers and stigma so that everyone can do their best work.

How does this all work in a virtual workspace? Showcase the diversity of the team in meetings by preparing attendees to be active participants; ask members to prepare and deliver mini presentations, department reports, or hold question and answer sessions as appropriate. Fully utilize communications systems that allow people to meet in real time, add pictures to their profiles, and use icons as affinity tags. Remember that as leaders and managers, we set the tone and the expectations.

Marie Bakari, DBA, MBA

Dr. Bakari is a professor in the School of Business at Northcentral University. She manages the Accounting specialization, serves on the Faculty Senate, and co-chairs the University Diversity Committee.

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