I was born and grew up in the region that apart from being a sea 300.000 ago still nurtures a diverse ecosystem of humans. In Vojvodina, there is 25 ethnic groups and six languages which are in the official use by the provincial administration. In my secondary school, students could attend classes in three different languages. Even though Orthodox Christianity is the prevailing religion, there are at least six more recognized ones that are practiced in their own temples. Living among differences was a reality for me, and the best thing is that we did not even notice those differences until the war came… but that’s another story.
I was lucky to learn that not everyone lives in the same way, have the same values, celebrate the same holidays. My friends who were from “mixed families” celebrated both Christmases (now you are wondering how many Christmases there is?) and we didn’t think that was weird — we actually thought that was pretty cool.
We all know that each human being is different and unique in its atoms dancing moves, carvings on the fingertips, chemistry in the brain and what carries in the heart… yet, most of us still believe that there is only one right way to live, only one right way to regulate religious, political, sexual and medical affairs.
I was never discriminated or treated (much) differently from others living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language and assimilating to local customs but I always felt the lack of genuine interest to know how different I am and to celebrate those differences with me. When we speak about diversity we should know it’s about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin. And this is not about being fair and just, it's about being human.
So diversity (& inclusion) is different and goes far beyond:
- Non-discriminatory communities — just because you don’t act against someone because of his born into characteristics does not mean you built the bridge and person feels safe to cross over it, it means you set the basics, the foundation. A bridge is built when you are open to differences and understand it, and if you can’t understand it at least respect it. For example, I would feel much more included if when I say I celebrate Christmas on 7th January people respond with curiosity and not putting me in the known box by saying “oh Spanish people too, it´s the Three Kings´ day”. This way you deny me to be who I am and to celebrate my tradition and explain to you that Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 7th January because Eastern Orthodox Church use a different calendar from the Catholic Church and the difference between the two is 13 days. You see, now we are both richer!
- Gender and race — Lately, very fairly when we speak about D&I we narrow it down to gender and race, forgetting to claim the wealth of values laying in every one of us from which we can learn. Make sure that all differences are welcomed and equally cared for.
There are a few ways I would like to see companies start doing in order to really create inclusive environments and culture and they are quite simple:
- Say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas recognising the fact that not everyone celebrates it at the same date or at all. You can also acknowledge and honour multiple religious and cultural practices across the company.
- Celebrate different nationalities by promoting food traditions and dishes as everyone will be happy to share their favourite homemade cravings. Where I work we created amazing Global Cook Book with the recipes from around the world from our colleagues. My team (when we could) organised thematic ethnic lunches where we would together explore different cuisines and shared delicious meals.
- Encourage employees to proactively share the traditions and customs they bring from their homelands.
- Create travel allowances for those who need to frequently travel to visit their family in their home country or give them a few more days of annual leave. They will know to appreciate it and give back.
- In job posts state explicitly that candidate can choose in which language they can do the interview (for example, English and the local language) — it will make a lot of difference, trust me!
- Make sure your organization is accessible in every way — wether people are entering blind, coloured, on wheels or digitally!
- Talk openly about gender pay inequalities, show data around it and actions you are taking to minimize it.
- Create and strengthen anti-discriminatory and anti-harassment policies — walk the talk!
- Make sure that your leadership is the best representation of your workforce!
- Be open!
Like I said I can’t complain about the way the differences I bring are treated, and I am lucky to be surrounded by amazing friends and family who like me for who I am and to work at an amazing place that cares about me but I believe that there is still so much we can do in respecting each other.
At the end I leave you with this beautiful poem, that can easily be translated into D&I manifest for any company. Be different! Its only natural!
“Teach her about the difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice but merely to be human and practical. Because the difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world.
She must know and understand that people walk different paths in the world and that as long as those paths do no harm to others, they are valid paths that she must respect. Teach her that we do not know — we cannot know — everything about life. Both religion and science have spaces for the things we do not know, and it is enough to make peace with that.
Teach her never to universalise her own standards or experiences. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people.
This is the only necessary form of humility: the realisation that difference is normal.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie