Diversity in employment

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Leena Haque

10 / 9 / 2015 4pm

BBC neurodiversity lead, Leena Haque, has carried out innovative research into workplace issues for people with neurological conditions,. Here, she shares her thoughts with us ahead of the diversity and inclusion conference on 23 September.


Hold a meeting about diversity and you will notice people assuming where the conversation will be focused - either black and minority ethnic (BME), disability, or even gender, but not often diversity in its broadest sense.

The issue around how people approach and focus on the different elements of diversity is, I believe, what hinders our progress in achieving any real change. Yet, it also helps to demonstrate the importance of having a diverse workforce and the real benefits this can bring – the paradox!

So, first let’s think about diversity and what it means to people. When you have a discussion about diversity, people have their own agenda.  Everyone agrees it’s important, but does everyone agree with the priorities and where the often limited resources need to go?

Do we arrange a recruitment event to help drive BME targets or do we address accessibility issues for staff with disabilities to help with retention and drive the disability targets?  In the meantime, who is focusing on maintaining gender equality, are we being socially diverse, and what about the issue of neurodiversity? 

Among all the conflicting priorities for change, it becomes easier to see why organisations never quite reach their diversity objectives. 

Also, ask general people on the street (maybe even the office?) what they think of diversity – do they think about the drive towards inclusion and awareness or the dance troupe from telly? Britain really does have talent, but are organisations effective at finding and recruiting it?

Diversity is something different to everyone and as a result, people find solutions which cover the whole breadth of diversity, not just one particular element.

For me, diversity is about inclusion, family and community.  Everyone is familiar with these terms and they provide a sense of unity rather than priority.  I’m not necessarily saying we will have ‘family’ departments in organisations of the future, just that we need to consider how we use and perceive the term diversity.

Put a challenge in front of a diverse workforce and you’ll get a multitude of creative solutions resulting from each person’s unique view formed from their varied backgrounds, experiences, values and approaches. Put the same challenge to a group of similar people and you’ll get one answer along the same lines as previous answers – which probably didn’t work either.

You see, variety leads to creativity, innovation and progress.  Organisations need to be more inclusive and understanding of those who are different to harness the strengths and abilities that result from individual backgrounds, experiences and perceptions.

Inclusion isn't about managing targets associated with different silos or categories.  It’s about building an effective community which will help to drive positive results.  It’s about awareness and an understanding that difference isn’t a challenge. It’s an opportunity.  It’s essential.

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