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Diversity and Inclusion

Do awareness weeks pay lip service to DEI?

Awareness days, weeks and months like International Women’s Day and Black History Month aim to bring certain demographics into our everyday focus and give air time to their unique issues and triumphs.

A prominent criticism of corporate awareness weeks is that they merely pay lip service to the diversity, equity and inclusion imperative. In other words, they put on a show about caring but do little to create an impact beyond this.

The theme for International Women’s Day (8 March) in 2020 was Generation Equality to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This was certainly a noble outcome to envision. Yet, when you consider it could take a century for women to be paid as much as men, do awareness weeks and events like this do enough to drive action?

Picture source: International Women’s Day 2020 Theme

Defending awareness weeks’ corner, proponents would say that they deserve more credit. They are well-intentioned and can be big-splash initiatives in their own right, especially when it comes to recognizing the link between awareness and action.

You could argue that a focus on awareness and understanding is necessary because misunderstanding stokes resistance to change, like those who reject the Black Lives Matter movement because they mistake it as an affront to non-Black lives.

Keep reading to hear both sides of the debate.

On the side of awareness weeks making a true impact:

✔️⚡️ Visibility and inspiration are the forces of change

✔️👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Awareness weeks are symbolic of an inclusive and progressive environment. This improves an employer brand and a sense of belonging, retaining and attracting diverse talent

✔️🤗 Awareness conquers erasure: it’s powerful and comforting to urge people to acknowledge that a group and their issues exist

✔️🤝 Awareness often comes hand-in-hand with action naturally. These actions might be small, like starting a conversation or visiting an online resource, but they can be the start of something huge

✔️👁 It is difficult to measure the exact positive impact of awareness weeks and it’s unfair to brand awareness weeks as performative just because you can’t see the immediate impact

Arguing that awareness weeks are little more than lip service:

✔️👩🏻‍💻 They don’t (usually) train you on how to do anything differently in your job

✔️💁‍♀️ They focus on the famous and the exceptional and so can seem shallow and grandiose instead of practical and relatable

✔️🤔 Organizations flourish when there is routinized efficiency. In theory and in practice, this tends to mean doing things in a uniform way. The corporate philosophies of homogeneity and diversity are directly contradictory and that’s why, after a week of celebrating differences, corporations return to business as usual

✔️‼️ Awareness weeks have fallen foul to being corporate washed and are about little more than insincere, performative morality to make an extra buck

✔️🥳 Academics and thought leaders agree that to be effective, awareness initiatives need to examine systems of power and oppression. Celebrating a group’s history and members in a feel-good way barely scratches the surface

So, which side of the debate are you on?

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State of DEI 2020-2021

How has 2020 changed the way we work? Hive Learning reports on the State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2021.

Read the report

Fiona Young (she/her)

Having previously led Learning and Development for 3,000 people at Europe’s leading venture builder, Blenheim Chalcot, Fiona knows a thing or two about how to build high performance culture. As Content Director at Hive Learning, Fiona pioneered the organisation's leading guided content programmes which are designed to turn learning into action. Most recently, Fiona led the inception, development and delivery of Inclusion Works by Hive Learning - the world’s first diversity and inclusion programme focused on turning unconscious bias into conscious action - created from over 1,000 leading sources.