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Andrew Marcinko
Doctoral Student
Andrew Marcinko

Equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace - seminar review

Authors: Andrew Marcinko Doctoral Student, Aston Business School

05 November 2015

At The Work Foundation offices in downtown London on Wednesday 28th October, a fittingly diverse group of academics and practitioners listened to presentations from four of the world’s top influencers in the areas of leadership and diversity.

It was the fourth seminar in a series of seven focused on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the Workplace. The series is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and hosted in collaboration with Aston University, Lancaster University, University of Sheffield, and The Work Foundation.

The expert panel featured two world leading academics in Daan van Knippenberg, Professor of Organizational Behavior from Erasmus University Rotterdam and Michelle Ryan, Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology from the University of Exeter. Both took time to discuss some of their latest and most promising EDI research, with a specific focus on how it might be applied to the workplace in the future.

Daan van Knippenberg elicited some of the day’s most spirited discussion, with his research-based argument that organizations are overly focused on preventative EDI measures, and should instead be more focused on stimulating positives outcomes. His research shows that preventing negative outcomes alone is not enough to create a climate where diversity is beneficial to an organization. However, some practitioners in the room expressed concern that reducing the focus on preventative measures could endanger the gains that women and minorities have made in the workplace already. It was exactly the type of meaningful dialogue between practitioners and academics that is so often missing in the field.

Later in the afternoon, Michelle Ryan presented the research behind her well-known “Glass Cliff” phenomenon, which found that women are often placed in leadership roles where the chances of failure and criticism are the highest. There’s still some debate as to why exactly this is, but it was an excellent presentation with many topical examples to discuss. A few women in the audience even joked that they might be just a bit more careful before accepting that next promotion.

Regina Eckert from the Center for Creative Leadership and Jagtar Singh, the Chair of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Partnership Trust, were the day’s practitioner speakers, and they each brought a breadth of real world examples and experience of EDI in the workplace. Regina Eckert’s talk, titled “Rearing Roses: An Integrative Approach to Women Leadership Development” focused on her experiences consulting for companies that had their own gender diversity issues. She approached the issue holistically, focusing on everything from improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for young girls to addressing the lack of both formal and informal support networks for women already in leadership roles.

To bring the seminar to a close, Jagtar Singh focused on his own difficulties and successes as a minority worker and student in the UK, having emigrated from India when he was six years old. He recounted his struggle in finding a job after becoming the first in his family to graduate university, and how promotion seemed hopeless when he was stuck behind less-qualified white candidates. Using a “word” borrowed from sport, Singh stressed that minority employees need “Bouncebackability” to succeed in the workforce. This drew discussion from some in the audience, who questioned whether it was fair that minority employees be expected to do more than their white counterparts to succeed.

At the end of the day, the seminar was a great success, not only for the insight of the expert speakers on hand, but also for the important discussions it spurred among the diverse crowd. Wednesday’s event was another step in moving the discussion surrounding EDI in the workplace forward, and there is no doubt that both the academics and practitioners in attendance will have learned something that they can take back and apply to their own careers.

To access speaker presentations and for more information about the seminar series please click here.

The next seminar in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace Series will focus on Evaluating the Impact of EDI Initiatives, and take place 9th of March, 2016, at Lancaster University.