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Beyond Branding: Building authentic workplace diversity

In the past few years, we have seen a global shift towards greater workplace diversity. D&I is now rising to the top of the agenda for CEOs and business leaders, and companies hire entire specialist teams dedicated solely to driving greater diversity and inclusion.  

At Identitii we have a small team of thirty. When I joined in October 2018 we had only fourteen. Can a tech start-up build a culture of diversity from the ground-up without a huge team of D&I specialists? 

Identitii was recently awarded Best Workplace Diversity at the 2019 Finnies, by FinTech Australia. It’s an accolade that we are incredibly proud of. We have built diversity in to the foundations of our business and I will share how our diversity philosophy has helped us begin to push beyond the traditional diversity agenda.   

More Than a Hashtag 

Despite the greater focus on workplace diversity, many people feel sceptical of corporate D&I branding and initiatives. Take a moment and think about what the word diversity means to you.  

I have asked this very question to many peers, friends, and colleagues and the general reaction has been a cynical eye-roll or a shrug and responses such as ‘It just means hiring more women’, or ‘Companies talk about diversity but don’t mean it’ and the kicker, ‘Diversity doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just a buzzword’. 

Disappointing, but not at all surprising. The corporate commodification of the diversity agenda has left people deeply sceptical. You need only look at Instagram during Gay Pride or International Women’s Day for a hundred examples of important social movements being co-opted by brands to sell products.  

I share much of this scepticism. I have long felt that the prevailing diversity rhetoric is too narrow, and I feel ill at ease with some of the disingenuous branding and hashtagging. GirlBoss, LadyBoss, and any of its variants invoke a particularly intense cringe for example. What’s wrong with just….boss?  

Furthermore, I believe that simply hiring more women is not a sufficient way to increase diversity. I absolutely recognise that there are woeful issues with the underrepresentation of women, especially in technology. There is much work to be done to bring about gender equity in the workplace. But still, gender is only one piece of the diversity question. There is so much more to focus on, so much unseen diversity to be understood. 

This is where intersectionality comes in.  

The Intersectional View  

Originally coined in 1989 by scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, intersectionality identifies that there are various forms of social stratification that can intersect with one another to further impact a person’s opportunities and access to equitable treatment.  

When I first read about intersectionality, it felt like a real-life light-bulb moment. Finally, I had a clearly articulated concept that validated my dissatisfaction with narrowly focused diversity agendas.   

Intersectionality applies a wider lens to diversity and moves beyond gender as the sole means of measuring workplace diversity. Intersectionality places importance on how various social strata, such as socioeconomic background, education, disability, mental health, age, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality intersect to shape a person’s opportunities, experience and overall identity.  

Let me pose an example.   

Let’s assume a business has set a quota to reach 50/50 gender representation on its senior leadership team, which they subsequently achieve. Intersectionality would argue that a 50/50 female/male leadership team is not truly diverse if it is otherwise homogenous in terms of sexuality, education, socioeconomic background, race, age, ethnicity, and cognition. 

In essence, there is more to diversity than gender alone and much of workplace inequity stems from systemised social strata, not all of which is visible. 

We are all familiar with the gender pay gap, yet the racial and ethnic pay gap is rarely mentioned in mainstream diversity discourse despite its growing significance. Many companies report on gender pay parity, but there is no mandatory reporting for racial or ethnic pay parity in Australia.   

Now, let me be completely clear, achieving gender representation at the senior leadership level is certainly a good and necessary step forward. Taking an intersectional view simply pushes us further and asks us not to stop there. 

In my next blog, due out August 8, I will share how Identitii puts intersectionality into practice. Check back in then.

Layla Bates

Layla Bates is Identitii’s Head of People and Culture. She joined the company in 2018 and is based in Sydney.

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