11 Myths about Diversity in the Workplace (And What Office Managers Can Do to Help)

Kayla Nabb

Terms like “inclusivity” or “inclusion”, “accessibility”, and “diversity” have been thrown around when discussing hiring, team management, and even in marketing and sales. There’s been an uptick in the use of these terms and the focus of articles and reports that study these factors among the biggest companies in the world. 

These concepts have helped encourage employees to file nearly 1 million discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the last 10 years. As any topic gets more and more airtime, there are bound to be wrongful assumptions and assertions that circulate about it. We’ll address those assumptions and the long-held myths about workplace diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. 

In a world where every company wants to appear more diverse, more inclusive, and more accessible, we’ll also explore how your company can actually execute on those aims and be these things. Most essentially, we’ll offer strategies to help you, the office manager, to do your part in fostering a more inclusive and accessible workplace for everyone. 

Here are 11 myths we’ll be debunking about inclusivity, accessibility, and diversity in the workplace, along with suggestions for what Office Managers can do to help: 

Myth #1: “It’s the 21st century - diversity is no longer a problem.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Despite the fact that racial, ethnic, gender, and sexuality “minorities” are becoming the majority within our lifetime, they’re still not represented nor treated equally. Diversity in the workplace remains a key focus as companies work to represent the same richly varied and diverse body of people within their organization as what exists beyond their walls.

How Office Managers Can Help

Introduce the topic of inclusivity and diversity at work, and make sure your leaders and hiring bodies are on the same page. Provide data to further demonstrate why greater diversity is both ethically sound and recommended from a business standpoint. Help to usher support for all employees and between all employees, regardless of what makes them different.   

Myth #2: “Diversity is about meeting a quota. There is such a thing as enough diversity.”

Wrong, diversity is not about simply meeting a quota. This is based on two problematic assumptions - 1) That employees of a certain age, gender, religion or background are only hired for one reason and 2) That employees that aren’t diverse are the “standard” or majority. The U.S. is already diverse enough for companies to have any race or ethnicity as its majority, and the U.S. is becoming more and more diverse each day.

In actuality, diversity can always be compounded upon. This isn’t just about gender, race, sexual orientation, and other inherent markers of identity, but also about diversifying based on age, background, personality type, socioeconomic status, and experience. Rather than seeing diversity as an assignment or an obligation, hiring diverse teams should be something that feels intrinsic, as it benefits everyone involved.

How Office Managers Can Help

Consider your team. What perspectives, backgrounds, or types of people are missing from your group? Think about what that might mean for your collective capabilities and impact and help to set up policies and practices that remove bias during recruiting.

Myth #3: “Diversity and Inclusion are the same things.” 

Diversity takes place during the hiring phase and inclusivity is what happens inside your organization. For example, you might bring on the first person of color to your executive team or C-suite, which is great. However, if that person doesn’t feel heard during meetings, isn’t compensated fairly, or is used as a promotional asset to bolster the organization’s reputation, your organization has succeeded in being more diverse but failed in being more inclusive.

How Office Managers Can Help

Craft and institute programming for both diverse hiring practices and inclusivity of management and collaboration. Make sure that leaders are bought into how their approach to leadership can impact all team members, regardless of background. Inject more support for an inclusive workplace into your culture, your messaging, and your brand. Most importantly, check in often with all employees to make sure no one is being purposefully left out, pressured, or treated poorly. 

Myth #4: “Diversity is about race. Our team already has plenty of race representation.”

Your team should be racially diverse; that much is true. However, a person's race isn’t the only human identifier that’s used to discriminate against employees or potential hires. Likewise, hiring a more racially diverse team will have a positive impact but it isn’t the only type of diversity that has that effect. When you’re working to develop a more diverse team, you’ll need to think about a multitude of ways that your people could be different from one another and embrace them all.

Your team should be gender-diverse. You should have a reasonably equal team of men and women. The best teams might also include persons who identify outside the gender binary or those who are transgender.

Your team should be sexuality-diverse. While this is difficult to ascertain without asking questions that are too personal, a team of 100% heteronormative employees could be a sign that your hiring managers are operating with subconscious biases.  

Your team should be ability-diverse. Those with differing physical and cognitive abilities bring a wealth of value to any company. 

It’s also important that your company invites a diversity of religion, nationality, customs, beliefs, and personality types - all of which bring new and valuable perspectives to the office.

How Office Managers Can Help

At the hiring phase, work with all recruiting and hiring bodies to determine and document diversity policies that include everyone. Be sure to use words like diversity correctly and to indicate more than just racial diversity. Check-in with your team to see what groups or types of people they feel are underrepresented at work, and convey that input to higher-ups. 

Myth #5: “Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) don’t equate to better business results.”

This is patently untrue. From top to bottom, diversity has been proven over multiple studies to increase a company’s overall revenue and improve the value of production. The assumption that a more diverse populace within your workplace would hinder business results is only further proof of an unconscious bias that is erroneously informing your hiring decisions. It’s important to work against these biases and truly examine why you might give preference to white, male, or cisgender applicants in instances where other candidates are equally qualified. 

How Office Managers Can Help

If D&I isn’t already part of your focus for the new year, make it so. Suggest to leaders that a non-diverse team can’t and won’t achieve what a diverse team would be capable of. Knowing that global business data corroborates the value of diversity and inclusion should help you put D&I at the forefront of your company’s initiatives for 2020. 

Myth #6: “A focus on diversity could limit or alienate parts of my talent pool.”

Contrarily, this belief could be holding back your hiring practice. We’ve already discussed how having a more diverse workplace will improve business success, but it’s also what the future workforce wants. Millennials are set to make up a whopping 75% of the workforce by 2025. As of 2008, 86% of millennials said that they would leave a job if the employer’s values did not match their expectations. Your ideal talent pool is one that’s filled with the most capable candidates who have a healthy mix of experience and skills. Your ideal talent pool is also one filled with bright ideas, different perspectives, and vibrant personalities so that you can achieve the unachievable. If your team looks, thinks, and behaves homogeneously, you’re holding them all back.

How Office Managers Can Help

Make sure that diversity and inclusion are key pillars of your company’s workflow, culture, and reputation. Also, make sure that any mentions of diverse or inclusive hiring aren’t made falsely or overpromised. Note: women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are tired of being hired to make you look better so make sure you’re hiring these people for the right reasons, too. 

Myth #7: “The general population is becoming less diverse, so this should be less of a priority.”

This is untrue on two accounts. First, the overall population is becoming more diverse year over year. Population data demonstrates that each generation is more diverse than the one before it and that the general North American populace will be without a known majority in terms of race, nationality, and sexuality by the year 2065. Second, diversity at work shouldn’t be an earned priority; you should want to hire and manage a diverse team regardless of the numbers. As we develop better and more sophisticated hiring practices, diversity should be seen as the norm -- not the exception.

How Office Managers Can Help

Notice, verbalize and refute instances of discrimination, bias, or de-prioritization of diversity at work. Make sure your leaders know how important it is to diversify your team and why that matters. Hold space in all pre-hiring kickoffs to get everyone on the same page about why diversity is a priority and how to execute on that priority. Make sure potential candidates know it, too. 

Myth #8: “A diverse body of employees will make decision making less streamlined and more difficult.”

Working within teams with similar backgrounds may lead to more familiarity, but a lack of perspective. In a study by McKinsey & Company, teams with more diverse executive teams outperform their competitors and experienced a 19% increase in revenue. When leaders stop assuming that diversity will cause them problems and begin testing it for themselves, they’ll see the same positive data points that every other organization has had following the institution of D&I policies. When your team is richly diverse, your people will be happier and more ready to focus on those important decisions and your decisions will be more informed by a diverse sample-set of points of view. It’s a win-win. 

How Office Managers Can Help

When decisions are being made, make sure everyone is in the room who should be. If your leaders are making decisions about the women in your customer base but there are no women in the room, fix it. The same is true for any underrepresented group. If this means you’re frequently having to pull in people who wouldn’t otherwise do relevant work to what’s being discussed, it’s a sign that your leadership teams and decision-makers are too homogeneous and that you need to diversify further. 

Myth #9: “If our company is ADA compliant, we don’t need to focus on accessibility.”

ADA compliance is super important. Prohibitive factors like the width of doorways, the height of buttons and handles, and access to restrooms, for example, can make or break someone’s ability to visit or work in your workplace if they’re in a wheelchair. However, those with physical disabilities that require the use of a wheelchair are only one segment of the millions of people with disabilities (48.9 million to be precise).

Other employees who might require accommodations or whose disability might impact their work could include those who are blind or hard of hearing, people with missing limbs or other unique body formations, those with obstacles of speech or articulation, people with chronic illnesses, and those with other invisible disabilities such as seizure disorders, cognitive processing challenges, emotional conditions, and more. An employee with any one of these circumstances could require accommodations or accessibility modifications but even those who don’t should be interviewed and hired equally to commonly-abled candidates. 

How Office Managers Can Help

First, make every effort to ensure that your facility is not only ADA compliant but that it accommodates as many different physical needs and capabilities as possible. Offer light variation, magnification, and proximity for things your visitors or employees need to see. Ensure that buttons or other interactive fixtures are reachable and usable for all. Check to see that no function or faculty within your building is prohibitive to anyone based on their physical abilities. Then, make sure all of the unspoken and invisible disabilities are also accounted for - prioritize mental health resources and services, provide accommodation wilfully wherever possible, give your people the flexibility they need to self-accommodate and ask for feedback. Make sure if your employees need anything to do their jobs well -- now or in the future -- that it’s provided as often and completely as is reasonable. 

Myth #10: “Someone with a disability could hold our team back.” 

This is both a discriminatory assumption and one that’s provably false. Negative disabled employee performance data is based on the historically unsupportive environments and situations disabled workers have had to settle for in the past. Rather than evaluating how a person’s disability might negatively impact the organization, it’s important to consider the disability only long enough to put reasonable accommodations in place where possible. Beyond that, every employee’s value should be seen as a factor of their dedication, output, skill and nothing more. 

How Office Managers Can Help

Champion everyone. Be the voice in the room that encourages leaders to “take a chance” on a differently-abled employee. When those with disabilities are hired, accommodate them and treat them with dignity. Make sure everyone else does, too. If any employee reports being treated differently for any reason, go above and beyond to fix it. 

Myth #11: “Disabilities aren’t that common so we don’t need special programs for them.”

Actually, according to The Department of Labor, 11.7% of the U.S. population (16 or older) have a disability or differentiation in abilities, among the working population. This means that if your team is at least this big, it should statistically include this many disabled employees. So, take stock. If your team is made up only of traditionally-abled people, examine whether that’s by design or by chance. Consider whether your company appears to be welcoming to hires with disabilities and why or why not that’s the case. 

How Office Managers Can Help

Be an ally. Support the hiring of those with disabilities and do your part to make them feel welcome and valued. Assess whether there’s anything you, your leaders, or your facilities could provide differently to encourage differently-abled candidates to apply and help ensure they’re comfortable and successful when they do.  

Diversity, Inclusivity, and Accessibility Are Not Buzz Words

Diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility are not buzz words; they’re an integral part of your business model, brand, and culture. There remains a pressing need for increases of all three at work, and there’s a lot of work to do to make that possible. It is the responsibility of all of us together to make sure that people of every race, gender, nationality, sexuality, background, and lifestyle feel welcome, protected, and successful at work. As an office manager, you have the power and influence to push that effort forward and we want to help. 

Looking for a way to manage your workplace more efficiently? Check out what Eden’s Workplace Management Platform can do for your office.

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