EY’s Heather Geary writes:
I listened to an episode on my favourite podcast recently (Freakonomics – it’s great, you should really check it out). The episode was a replay, and I had heard it when it first played about a year ago. The theme of the episode is ‘in praise of incrementalism’ – the premise being that our world undervalues the power of small incremental steps towards progress.
I imagine this podcast is reassuring to anyone in my position – patience is a necessity in D&I work because dramatic change doesn’t happen very often. However, we have had some bigger changes over the course of the last year – the Australian marriage equality vote, #MeToo and EY’s recent cultural diversity targets for example – so I was interested to see what I now felt about incremental progress versus quick changes.
Taking my first example – the Australian marriage equality vote. This seemed like a quick change on the surface, but on closer examination, was actually the result of incrementalism – many small steps taken over the years, and a conversation that has matured over time – both inside our firm and outside. Whilst it did generate debate, I was really pleased to see that at EY it was largely respectful debate – because many people had been educated on how to talk about LGBTI differences and issues.
#MeToo was a different matter, seemingly exploding out of nowhere, simmering quietly for awhile and continuing to make impact in recent months. While we had been talking constantly about gender equality over the past years – we focused on more “professional” or “developmental” themes, not the elephant in the room – the raw and deeper level of #MeToo issues. We were largely unprepared for this conversation and I think that has left many of us deeply uncomfortable with having it. Chief Executive Women and Male Champions of Change released a report a few weeks ago acknowledging backlash that has stemmed from social change on this front, but does the backlash come from the change, or from the speed of change?
These examples from the past year have strengthened my belief in the power of incrementalism, but has added the understanding that the dialogue is critical. We need to talk more about our differences, even when it make us uncomfortable. This is a given in inclusion work, but we must also challenge ourselves on what this means at an organisational level.
For example, EY has just announced new cultural diversity targets: 30% culturally and linguistically diverse partners by 2022 and that promotions above manager rank should be proportional to the cultural diversity of the current rank. Being closer to the start of our journey to organisation-wide cultural intelligence, we need to start talking about the dynamics of culture now. We need to bust the stereotypes but appreciate the differences in core values that culture brings and we need to recognise how much of our leadership model is based on highly westernised cultural beliefs. We need to walk the fine line between the conversation the organisation is ready to have and the conversation it needs to have and we need to make steady, incremental progress.
This is what will bring us, step by step, closer to our goal of truly inclusive workplace – without wasting years ignoring the elephants in the room, or being at the mercy of disruptive inclusion that potentially decelerates advancement. Because there is no silver bullet, quick fix or game changing panacea – just steady, incremental progress towards our goals, at a speed everyone can take together.
Heather Geary is the Oceania Diversity & Inclusiveness Leader at EY. This post was first published on LinkedIn.
It is republished here with their kind permission.