The acronym DEI, which stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion, has been surfacing a lot in recent conversations, job description, job titles, and educational programs. For the sake of brevity, I’ll share my short description version in this post. Diversity shares the numbers in a group setting; one person alone cannot make an organization “diverse.” Inclusion is making those numbers count: Does everyone on the team feel a sense of belonging? Equity determines whether everyone on the team has access to equal opportunities and assessments. In a nutshell, equity encompasses fairness.
In November 2019, while it was still safe to shake hands and partake in group hugs, I was invited to speak at the Dubai International Food Safety Conference. This annual conference is one of the most awaited and largest food safety events in the Middle East, with a turnout of more than 3,000 participants from around the world. I had presented a case study and elaborated on the impact of unconscious bias on food safety auditing. During the interactive session, the audience members were able to articulate the various biases they experienced, and how it was impacting not only auditing skills, but also their organization’s recruitment guidelines. Following the presentation, a gentleman from the audience shared, “I can see more women in the workforce now, and I feel the women on my team are happy. I do not agree with your observation. Women should earn their respect in the industry.”
The silence that followed in the hall that was packed, spoke volumes. I responded with, “Thank you for validating what we’ve all been talking about for the past hour. From a scientific standpoint, collecting and sharing data is not about whether or not you agree with it. It’s about acknowledging what you see.”
While the majority in the conference room were on board with closing the gender gap, acknowledging and addressing their unconscious biases that impede objective decision making, and getting started with the right resources, it got me thinking even more about working with opposing cultural values. It’s incredible how inter- and intra-connected the food and beverage network is from a cultural standpoint. Contrary to popular belief, just because an industry already exists within a diverse landscape, it doesn’t mean that the leadership team of an organization inherits the understanding required to work with mixed (and sometimes opposing) cultures. Here’s why: We collectively lack the foundational skills to coexist in disagreement with one another.
If you’re a food safety professional looking to get started with establishing a few DEI goals, here are a few tips.
It’s Not Right or Wrong—It Just Is
Positive change has never started with telling someone what to do. Positive change, historically, and presently, has always started with an idea that grew into a movement. When you’re curious about a different culture, remain curious and open. Our brain is based on duality, meaning, we compare and contrast more than we realize—left or right, dark or bright, fast or slow, etc. When we’re hearing a narrative, we are unconsciously comparing it to an experience that we are familiar with and making split-second decisions about what is right or not. Though it’s easier said than done, the root of eliminating our unconscious biases comes from being open listeners.
Engagement Surveys are Valuable
Employee engagement surveys, if designed correctly, can share a lot about the organization’s culture. In the race to accomplish diversity, leaders are often ill-equipped with the tools to propel inclusion and equity. DEI strategies are like a three-legged stool—it’s all about balance.
Food Safety Culture Is Based on Workplace Culture
I’ve heard food safety professionals often refer to their company’s food safety culture as an entity that’s separate from the organization’s culture. In fact, it is the opposite. The strength of an organization’s food safety culture depends on the company’s workplace culture. For example, create a safe space to speak up, establish secure procedures for whistle blowing, and build a system that is in line with the company’s mission, vision, and values.
If it seems a bit overwhelming at first, stop aiming for the ultimate level of perfection. Instead, try to achieve one imperfect action a day, and see your results add up. DEI and food safety can—and should—go hand-in-hand.