We interviewed Dr. Rebecca Paluch, DE&I expert and Assistant Professor at UBC Sauder School of Business to better understand how we as individuals and organizations can do better.
Dr. Rebecca Paluch has been studying and researching Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) for the past seven years. She also teaches at UBC Sauder School of Business’s Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources division to undergraduates and MBA students.
Her inspiration for studying DE&I stemmed from growing up in a transracial home where her mother, a feminist, always pushed for gender equality.
Before pursuing her passion for DE&I, Dr. Paluch studied marketing and finance and obtained a CPA. Her decision to leave the finance and accounting industries were largely influenced by DE&I, even if she didn’t fully see it at the time. “I always thought it was because I didn’t have an interest in finance or accounting, but actually reflecting on it more, particularly in the past few months, I realized that it was about this masculine, patriarchal culture.”
I didn’t see myself getting an M.D. and networking with a bunch of people who didn’t look like me, or who I couldn’t relate to or I had to be somebody I wasn’t to be successful. – Rebecca Paluch
With the rise in the Black Lives Matter movement, Dr. Paluch has seen a surge in interest in DE&I, both at the academic and corporate levels. In fact, she hosted a webinar, Leading with Diversity & Inclusion, on the topic just last month. “Over the past few months…there has been an exponential increase in DE&I. I think people who didn’t see the importance of DE&I before are seeing the light and seeing that it’s not only important for minorities and women, it’s important for the health of the organization as a whole.”
We dug into this deeper and found that DE&I’s impact on the greater organization and other metrics such as performance, productivity, and profits are continuing to be measured. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that “employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”
Diversity has been categorized in two tiers: low-level or high-level.
Low-level diversity: These are often demographic characteristics that include things that an individual is born with, such as: race, gender, and sexual orientation. They also might be things visual to us, like age.
High-level diversity: These characteristics are harder to read after initially meeting someone. These characteristics include values, personality and attitudes. Often, we make judgments about someone’s high-level diversity based on their low-level diversity. For example, the stereotype that people with blond hair are less intelligent.
Future of DE&I
Dr. Paluch shared that the history of DE&I have largely been advanced by grassroots movements and marginalized employees who take on the burden of pushing for a better world or workplace. She hopes to see DE&I “become something that is just inherently structural in organizations, rather than needing advocates who are underrepresented push these types of projects”
In Dr. Paluch’s experience, some internal practices or initiatives are catered to certain kinds of people. Hint: Who shows up to your networking events?
DE&I in business (school)
Since the rise in the Black Lives Matter movement, Dr. Paluch has observed a change in the attitude of academics and administration at business schools. Teaching is reaching beyond vocational skills like finance, accounting, and marketing. Universities are seeing there’s a greater responsibility on the school to educate their students on DE&I topics because they are the ones going out in the business world to make a change. “It’s our job now to teach them how to be good, ethically-minded, diverse, and inclusive-minded citizens of organizations.”
From the student perspective, Dr. Paluch feels there is “far more interest in learning about bias and discrimination. Before I felt like I had to push that a little bit more, but now I’m so excited…there’s more students who are coming out of the woodwork to ask about it.”
One of Dr. Paluch’s concerns around the increased interest in DE&I in academia is the amount of concern with “saying the wrong thing or being offensive”. She reminds educators that, as a university, it is their mandate to educate and “get people out of their comfort zones.” Dr. Paluch feels that universities have a fine line to walk in conversations that are productive to learning, and those that aren’t.
To change perceptions and break down prejudices, Dr. Paluch has observed a danger in the reinforcement of opinions through social media. Specifically, because algorithms respond to what we engage with, we continually see the same opinions. This can mislead us into thinking that everyone feels the same way.
This is confirmation bias, and it impacts our thoughts on everything, from topics like climate change, politics, human rights and music taste. This article explains how the algorithms in your social media might be doing you a disservice.
Universities must challenge this bias by having difficult conversations with opposing opinions. In the past few years at UBC, the line between free speech and hate speech has gotten blurry between controversial speakers and the notoriously “right-wing” Free Speech Club.
From Dr. Paluch’s point of view, when faced with disagreements in opinion, she would “prefer to dig down and to understand why people feel the way they do.”
Misconceptions of DE&I
Dr. Paluch believes the biggest misconception is the idea of reverse discrimination. Moreover, that movements for equity are only aiming to make white men less employable, favouring women and minorities. REMINDER: There is value in diversity—for the individuals who contribute to it and the greater organization.
Dr. Paluch has observed that it is becoming more difficult for white men to get jobs. Historically, women and minorities have overperformed to be promoted or hired at the same rate as white men. Dr. Paluch shares that “it is not that the bar for white men is getting higher, they’re just having to reach the same bar that women and minorities always perform at to be considered for that same position.”
Dr. Paluch’s Tips for Improvement
Organizations and individuals are looking for answers on how to do things right, be better and ensure they’re being anti-racist. This is Dr. Paluch’s advice for doing just that.
- Learn on your own
Read books and articles or watch videos and documentaries to better understand topics of inequity like racism, sexism, discrimination against the queer community, etc. Some of Dr. Paluch’s recommended include this Indigenous reading list from CBC., and Ibram X. Kendi’s reading list featured in the New York Times.
These are some other resources we’ve collected:
- Anti-Black Racism Education Resource List (NYU)
- LGBTQ+ History Reading List (NBC)
- Anti-Oppression Guide(s) from New York Institute of Technology
- Have conversations
The more difficult, but probably more important piece to being anti-racist is having tough conversations with people in your life at work or home about these topics to learn and listen. Stand up when you see oppressive behaviour. It can be scary to have these conversations when often the unwritten code is to be colour-blind, and not bring up matters of race at all. We have your back: This article from Wharton School of Business outlines how to talk about race at work.
- Build relationships
Oppression stems from misplaced hate and fear, which could be significantly reduced we connect with each other on a human level. Dr. Paluch recommends building relationships with people outside of your social group. Whether because of their low- or high-level diversity, having people in your life different from you is a good thing. As a result, you’ll learn and grow from them, and vice versa. To be clear, no relationship should be transactional or solely for the purpose of self-gratification.
Find people that will respectively counter your own perspectives and engage in discussions about important topics.
- Be open-minded
Remember confirmation bias? Dr. Paluch recommends that everyone take the time to seek out news and information from diverse sources. It takes being proactive to not fall prey to social media algorithms! Having a well-rounded pool of information is likely to reduce your confirmation bias and engage in greater critical thinking to form your own opinion.
Now, these tips aren’t everything to becoming anti-racist, an advocate, or an ally. You’re not alone in the journey to learning & working for equity. If you’re not sure where to start, say hello: [email protected].