Ensure inclusion before fostering diversity
"Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance." The quote by Verna Myers, an American diversity consultant, speaker, lawyer and corporate executive is quite familiar to diversity and inclusion practitioners all over. It is one that aptly captures the essence of the two terms, while at the same time, outlining the distinction.
We have seen D&I expanding to equity and belonging as dimensions that impact workplace well-being.
Liz Fosslien, consultant, author and speaker on diversity, inclusion and belonging, said: "Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard."
The essential point is that having diversity alone is inadequate if it does not go hand in hand with inclusion, equity or belonging.
A news article a few weeks ago reporting on the number of overseas students studying in local universities made me recall this essential distinction. The article was headlined "Universities 'plan drive to woo belt and road students'." Clearly, with competition to attract talent heating up across the region, Hong Kong is rolling up its sleeves and getting into the act.
However, financial incentives such as scholarships are just one of many considerations for potential incoming talent to study in Hong Kong and to stay on thereafter, which is the primary goal of the "plan." Other key factors would be how welcome and included they would feel, whether they would be able to make friends, how people would respond to their differences, and how culturally aware people around them are. In other words: inclusion, equity and belonging.
As businesses increasingly focus on improving D&I in the workplace, inclusion has come up as a critical factor in deciding how organizations are seen. It is something potential employees and customers look at when evaluating an organization and which human resources cannot afford to ignore. The same is likely to apply to a place of study and the principle also applies to a city, especially for foreigners who are weighing their options.
Hong Kong does not just want students to acquire an education, they want to retain talent so that they can contribute to its growth. For that to happen, Hong Kong needs to ramp up its inclusion and equity quotient. The SAR is in stiff competition with others in the region, who are all facing a talent crunch. But Hong Kong is naturally well placed, given its history of immigrants and location, to have cultural diversity. What it could do better is leverage its diversity for development, talent attraction and growth.
Studies have shown that cultural diversity can be a major force for creativity, productivity and growth. The United Nations goes further by saying: "Cultural diversity is a driving force of development, not only with respect to economic growth, but also as a means of leading a more fulfilling intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life."
According to the UN, three-quarters of the world's major conflicts have a cultural dimension. "Bridging the gap between cultures isurgent and necessaryfor peace, stability and development."
Recognizing the essential role of intercultural dialogue, the United Nations declared May 21 as theWorld Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. To have a day dedicated to using cultural diversity as a force to foster peace and progress sustainable development speaks to its importance.
For Hong Kong, the focus currently seems to be on getting the diversity numbers, but I would urge all those concerned to ensure the inclusion elements are well in place. It is important to bear in mind that the latter is a bigger challenge as it concerns mindsets and behavior. Understandably, it is also a slower process.
Without inclusion, diversity cannot be sustained. As Andres Tapia, author and D&I strategist said: "Diversity is the mix, inclusion is making the mix work." Hong Kong needs to make the mix work.
The article was published in The Standard on 30 May 2023.