As mentioned last month, I wanted to continue to pass along the good information I learned when I participated in an interesting session on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in the forest sector. The event provided details that can benefit companies in the woodworking sector too.
Forestry Innovation Investment (FII) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) have engaged with a subject matter expert, Canadian Equality Consulting, to integrate diversity and inclusion to a greater extent in their planning and in their funding programs for the forestry sector.
Their efforts to date have included research and consultations with those receiving funding and with other similar organizations, to see what they are doing and where they are when it comes to D&I. The aim is to develop and build an inclusive culture that encourages, supports and celebrates the diverse voices of their own employees and those in related organizations. All the effort being invested will lead to the overarching goal of enabling and supporting D&I in the forest sector. The key speaker at this component of the Wood Best Practices Forum 2021 was Marcie Hawranik from Canadian Equality Consulting, who provided an overview of the importance of diversity and inclusion planning for organizations. She delivered what was termed as D&I 101, including what is D&I, why D&I and she provided an explanation of some common terminology, which was helpful in understanding the landscape. She also provided an understanding of bias and looked at how to advance D&I within an organization. The goal was to develop an understanding of key diversity and inclusion concepts and the purpose was to be prepared to advance D&I successfully in organisations, be they large or small.
Continuing the discussion from the last edition, sex and gender are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but are quite different. Gender is similar to race, in the sense that gender is human-invented and is a social construct, so it fluctuates and it changes over time. Our idea of what it means to be a man in Canada could be very different than what it means in another area of the world. The expectations we place around being a man really changes geographically, and over time. Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience or belief of gender,
of what you identify with. It is their sense of being a woman, man or non-binary. Gender expression, also called gender presentation, is what you show externally, it is how you present your gender externally. It is a person’s behaviour, mannerisms, interests, the pronouns they
share with others and the appearance associated with gender in a particular cultural context. Sex is physiological, a legal category assigned at birth by a doctor or whoever delivered you when you were born. There are three legal sex categories, including male (M), female (F) and non-binary, sometimes referred to as intersex (X).
There have been a lot of questions around pronouns. Everyone identifies with pronouns and pronouns exist in both a gendered and a cultural context. Pronouns can be in the first person singular (I, me), or plural (we, us), second person singular or plural (you) or third person singular pronouns (they/them). Common examples include she/her, he/him, they/them and everyone identifies with their own pronouns. This is something that is immediately actionable and is something you can take with you to your organisation today. It is something that is really easy to do, by just sharing your pronouns at the beginning of a meeting, or in your email signature, it is non-intrusive and it signals a valuing and a very big importance to others, so people that might have non-binary pronouns or gender-diverse pronouns, when they see that it makes a huge difference to them in feeling valued and accepted for being who they are.
Experts encourage people, if they are comfortable, to share their pronouns. There will always be mistakes that happen and that is normal and natural and is part of growing and learning. It is best if you make a mistake to thank the person for the correction, acknowledge the mistake, apologize and move on.
People with (dis) abilities is another key component of any D&I work. Most prefer people-first language, so the term most commonly advocated for is “people with (dis)abilities,” not disabled people. There are, as well, various other accepted terms used in other countries or contexts. It is important to recognize the diversity of disabilities when understanding how to build inclusive organizations. People with disabilities are only disabled by the world they live in. Only because workplaces, for example, are not traditionally designed for the most marginalized that they experience difficulty navigating the world. It is important to note that people with disabilities are often underrepresented within different rights movements, so for instance, if an organization wants to focus on gender equity and focus on increasing the representation of women on their board or in their organisation, disability is often completely overlooked. That is something, that if you look at it with an intersectional lens, you are able to look at multiple groups at one time, and make a difference. The term that is so important and core within the D&I movement “nothing about us without us,” was first created within the disability movement.
Unconscious bias is another foundational concept to D&I work. In understanding bias, there is explicit or conscious bias and there is implicit or unconscious bias. Explicit or conscious bias occurs when a person is very clear about their feelings and attitudes and related behaviours are conducted with intent. Implicit or unconscious bias operates outside of the person’s awareness and can be in direct contradiction to a person’s espoused or personal beliefs and values. Everyone has unconscious biases. If you have a brain, you have unconscious biases working away in the back of your head. It is our brain’s way of managing the overload of information we are taking in at any given time. Research on biases suggests that we are receiving 11 million pieces of information at any one time, entering through our senses and only about 40-50 pieces of information actually get absorbed. Identifying our biases help us to mitigate them and prevent them from causing damage and from us being over-reliant on them in our decision-making. Research suggest that we instinctively categorize people using these easily observed criteria that we see. We look at people by their skin colour, their gender, their gender expression etc. and already start to presume traits or stereotypes or assumptions or judgements on them and that is what those biases are. They are strong. Within the first seven seconds of meeting a person, we can have a solid impression of who we think they are and within a blink of an eye, a tenth of a second, we can determine traits like trustworthiness. So the advantage, historically, is that it has saved us time and energy in not only processing this information but also being able to detect really quickly if we are in danger. The disadvantages, if we rely on this too much, it causes us too often to be reliant on stereotypes or snap judgements or assumptions. Biases do have a large impact. They could prevent you from hiring the best people, can reinforce stereotypes and can unintentionally perpetuate discrimination This results in less diversity and all of the benefits that result from diversity and inclusion and as a result, there is less profitability and effectiveness. It creates a toxic workplace and low productivity and high turnover.
There are many biases but
some common ones include appearance bias, judging people
on what they look like, which is
an extremely common snap judgement when overwhelmed
with information or when
sorting through things with very little information. It is a mental shortcut that we end up making that can be really harmful. Another common one is an affinity bias, where we all have a tendency to prefer people who look like us, sound like us or have similar interests, so an affinity bias might explain why you think you have
a subtle connection to one of
your co-workers that cheers for
the same sports team as you,
or a connection to a relative or someone who attended the same college as you. Another type
of bias is an anchoring bias, where you place too much emphasis on the first piece of information you get about something or someone, and then you are not able to effectively hear or believe any
other information that might contradict it afterwards. These
three biases are really common
and are relatively easy to identify in oneself.
In my next column on this important subject, I will pass on the good information that was provided on how to start mitigating unconscious biases,
the four core ingredients or pillars that companies should be cognisant of when trying to advance D&I within their organization and when companies are trying to cultivate or build a culture of inclusion, what are some key principles to keep in mind with any kind of D&I work.