Agnes Uhereczky and Barbara De Micheli

Diversity and Inclusion is experiencing a wave of popularity in almost all European Member States – a few years behind the United States, where interest is still quite high – and critical perspectives are starting to emerge as European companies and organisations are growing more aware of the need to value diversities and create inclusive environments.

However, in the middle of this pandemic, which has accelerated the digitalisation of work and dramatically changed the way we relate to the workplace, building inclusive working environments is far more complicated than simply formulating an inclusion statement. Creating inclusive work environments in the so-called “new normal” requires theoretical knowledge, consolidated skills, familiarity with dedicated tools, the capacity to define and monitor indicators, the capacity to build and share a vision, and strategies to overcome organisational resistances to change. The early phase of D&I, when being sympathetic and expressing goodwill was sufficient, is over. Reality is growing complex and intersectional, while our usual lens for making sense of it is becoming as useless as our fogged glasses over our anti-Covid masks. It is not enough to set targets and tweak recruitment processes to ensure we hire individuals from certain groups.

The goal must be for organisations to enhance inclusion and create safe, integrative and multicultural working environments that allow organisations to benefit from diversity. Policies alone won’t achieve that – inclusive climates in teams will. And this is when diversity and inclusion becomes complex and tricky. All individuals advocating for D&I, and Diversity and Inclusion managers on the front lines of implementation, need to acquire specific skills, to study, reflect, create bridges and be part of communities and to see what can be saved and what needs to be left behind as we build a more inclusive future. It is via these skills and confidence that managers, team-leaders and diversity and inclusion champions can become effective, not only at achieving targets but at creating workplaces where all employees feel a sense of belonging and do not hold back their creativity and potential, but are eager to contribute to our collective success.

This is what Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini has been doing over the last 10 years with its Master’s course on Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, built from scratch in 2012, when D&I was far less popular, and constantly renewed following the evolution of diversity and inclusion concepts and tools. Given the hybrid nature of the Fondazione – a research centre used to create synergy between enterprises, public organisations and civil society organisations – the learning pathway has been hybrid too, integrating academic knowledge, practitioners’ experiences and the development of practical skills, such as the capacity to design innovative inclusion projects.

However, if being hybrid is a key asset in a phase that requires the ability to adapt, being hybrid is also a crucial asset in creating bridges: if you are aware that you belong to more than just one world and that your identity has several dimensions, if you have learnt how to move in different contexts and with different people (academics, companies and NGOs) perhaps you have developed the key skills needed to create the basic elements of an inclusive environment. You become able to make space for all individuals to be there and participate actively. It sounds easy, but doing this involves many factors: awareness of legislative contexts, familiarity with what people advocating for different groups’ needs and rights have been writing and claiming, recognising your privilege (and how you can use it to become an ally), being willing to question your projects from many perspectives, checking whether they are concretely inclusive or, perhaps unconsciously, leaving someone behind, clearly communicating your objectives and aims and being ready to provide evidence to the contrary to those who claim that diversity and inclusion is not a priority. You need to be trained and have opportunities to practice your skills and examine your thoughts and feelings in a comfort zone inhabited by peers who are constantly learning, just as you are, how to deal with personal and organisational stereotypes and bias. After 10 years and 11 editions of the Italian Master’s, during which students’ contributions have been key in reshaping the content and approach, alongside the support of trainers, practitioners and sponsors, the momentum was there to broaden the perspective.

After going completely digital with the tenth edition, as a way to continue during the pandemic, we are going European as a way to broaden our knowledge, range of inspiration and tools and to offer D&I managers more assets to be able to activate initiatives with a longstanding impact. The EU edition of the training pathway will start in October 2021 and, while maintaining a vertical focus on legislative frameworks and dedicated tools for the different dimensions of D&I (gender equality, LGBTQ+ people-inclusive environments, disabilities, ageing and generations, multi-ethnicity and racial discrimination) it will offer an intersectional approach and reflect on how D&I initiatives should intersect with the new modalities of work we are facing. It will be held online in English on 8 weekends and will offer participants the opportunity to get in touch with theories, models and tools and learn how to use them in practice while networking with people who share the same approach to organisational change for inclusion in Europe. With globalisation and European integration ongoing, it is the perfect time to offer a more holistic and cross-national view of Diversity and Inclusion and to foster peer-exchange, mutual learning and ensure that D&I professionals are able to stay one step ahead.

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