Diversity and Inclusion at UN
Many organizations are adopting diversity and inclusion in the workplace given they help to enhance productivity, innovation, creativity, and job satisfaction. There is however still a considerable gap in some industries — public sector, travel, transport and logistics, construction, and property which have less diversity in specific roles in terms of cultural background, identity, sexuality, disability, gender, and ethnicity.
For things to enhance, we ought to move the needle on diversity and inclusion by building a common understanding of why diversity and inclusion matter. At the United Nations, we have made a number of dedications to promote diversity and inclusion through Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — SDG 5 (gender equality) SDG 10 (reducing inequalities), SDG 4 (quality education), and SDG 8 (decent work and economic development) that are geared towards reducing inequality and empowering women and girls. We are also working hard to build workplace environments that reflect our diverse neighborhoods and present equal opportunities for all.
Prompted by the 2020 global analysis on institutional and systemic racism, the Secretary-General launched a campaign of dialogue and action against racism and established the Task Force on Addressing Racism and Advancing Dignity for All in the United Nations. This was based on the recognition that the UN system is not immune to racism and racial prejudice and that racism, exclusion, and marginalization affect workforce morale, undermine dedication, hamper the delivery of mandates, and go against human decency.
To help this endeavor, HLCM agreed to take a common strategy in addressing racism and racial discrimination in the United Nations system, using the Secretary General’s Strategic Action Plan as a baseline for coordination and cooperation among the organizations.
The Committee formalized a timebound multidisciplinary Group of Focal Points on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consisting of Diversity Experts (Regular Session, 6 April 2022, , London) to enable a system-wide, coordinated strategy, based on shared values and principles, to gain the desired rigorous, longterm, cultural transformation.
But why do diversity and inclusion really matter?
Making Possibilities for Innovation
We are often asked to come together to solve complicated problems in the workplace. If your colleagues are from the same ethnic environment, university, or race, it is likely that you will arrive at parallel solutions which may not be the best. However, in more diverse and inclusive organizations you are likely to be exposed to people who have diverse cultural perspectives, expertise, and experiences which can promote different ways of thinking, defining problems, and discovering solutions. Innovation needs a significant amount of brainstorming and cooperation in environments that encourage open and productive discussions.
By doing something as easy as having diversity and inclusion embedded as core values in an organization, we are able to reinforce our capability to develop better ideas and views for improved organizational outcomes. It is significant to note that bringing together a group of people who have differing interests, backgrounds and perspectives needs skill to manage. In some instances, people need to learn how to work together and cooperate effectively to develop innovative solutions.
Promoting Psychological Protection
Diverse and inclusive workplaces can create a sense of belonging for employees who are part of minority or marginalized groups. This can in turn support fostering stronger work relationships, empathy, communication cooperation, and more significantly psychological safety. Employees who feel psychologically safe are better positioned to voice their opinions, ask questions, and assume failures in work environments that are representative. Research shows that when employees feel a sense of belonging, they tend to be more determined to their work, open to learning, more positive, and consequently conduct better at work.
But it initiates with being deliberate about putting in place a set of interrelated strategies and practices — learning and development, hiring policies, and team exercises across the organization. Accomplishing this is almost impossible without good leadership, which is key to controlling diversity and inclusion and creating a culture where employees have the chance to learn, make a contribution, and develop. Creating these environments extends beyond leadership. As a cooperative, we need to make others feel psychologically safe by being intentional about working with each other regardless of our cultural backgrounds, identities, sexuality, disability, gender, or ethnicity.
SDG target 10.2 calls on us to “empower and advance the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.” By fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace we can offer equal job prospects and fairness for all. This is particularly significant now as we rebuild following the COVID-19 pandemic which has exacerbated inequalities throughout society. A UN Women report revealed that women and girls disproportionately suffered the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 through job losses, strains on their physical and mental health, reduced working hours, and more. People with disabilities who experienced job losses during the pandemic are anticipated to have slower chances of returning to their previous employment status. These and other imbalances make it significant for us to think about building workforces that reflect our communities. We ought to invest in upskilling people from different backgrounds and widening job entry routes as a means to reduce inequalities.
Building diverse and inclusive work environments is no effortless accomplishment. It needs a significant investment in resources, awareness initiatives, practices, and training that is responsive to organizational needs. This often means diversifying tactics to foster workplaces where people can co-create solutions and don’t fear being judged.
But how can advancement be achieved across organizational hierarchies? How can we empower leaders and employees to adopt diversity and inclusion and realize its full potential? I think there is a role for learning, which is one of the many reasons why we formed the Diversity and Cultural Intelligence Skills for Results programme to help UN staff to increase their cultural sensitivity and awareness, enabling them to work, interact and communicate in diverse work environments.