Transcript: 15 - How inclusion fosters a sense of belonging — with Ritika Wadhwa

Today's guest is Ritika Wadhwa. Ritika is Director of UK Operations at Cultural Intelligence Centre. She is responsible for leading the Cultural Intelligence Centre’s work in the UK and beyond. Ritika brings over two decades of extensive experience in client retention, marketing, business development, and project management. This experience has been gained by working with senior stakeholders across continents, the corporate and Government sector.

Born and brought up in India, Ritika has the unique experience of living, studying, and working in senior roles in several multicultural countries. She is passionate about Cultural Intelligence and is a Diversity & Inclusion champion. Ritika has a degree in Economics and an MBA.

She describes herself as resilient and passionate.

In today's call, we'll be looking into appreciating that equality, diversity and inclusion play an important role in the spaces in which we live and work, and that these aspects need to be taken into account from the beginning of a project to ensure sustainable projects for sustainable communities.

So welcome Rikita. It's a pleasure having you on our podcast.


Thank you, Jeanette. It's an absolute pleasure being here, and I feel very honoured that you invited me to come to this podcast. Thank you.


The pleasure is all ours. So just to kick off. I read this really interesting phrase from Marsha Ramroop, the head of diversity at RIBA and she basically says “architecture is responsible for our built environment and space influence our language, how we think, how we behave and the opportunity to behave inclusively.” So, there is an element of understanding equality and inclusion when it comes to the design of spaces, and design of outdoor spaces, how we behave within our cities... So, I wonder Ritika, would you perhaps like to start off with really defining what equality and inclusion mean?


Thank you, Jeanette, and that's a great quote, from Marsha. She's doing some great work in the DNI Space for, especially within the architecture community. So I'm going to go to the literal definitions to begin with, because I know we have a lot of time to go into the specifics as we go into the discussion further. So let me start off with defining diversity: Diversity is the variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance. So, such differences such as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc. Prioritizing diversity means ensuring that our collections, staff, board of trustees, anyone that's involved in the organization or community embody multiple perspectives and are accessible and welcoming to all.

So that really is the core definition of diversity. I'm going to now define equity: Equity is a commitment to fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement of everyone in the community or organization.

So, we define diversity and understand what does diversity comprise of an equity, then, is the commitment for fair treatment for all these people that are diverse and the different perspectives they bring. It's a commitment to equity which requires continually striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of all people.

Going further into the definition of inclusion then, which is my favourite bit personally: is the act of creating environments - it’s what you do to create this environment - fair, equitable environment for the diverse people that you work with it. It makes the individual or groups feel welcome, respected, supported and valued. Inclusive organization and workplaces embrace differences and foster critical conversation, offer respect to all people who want to participate and contribute in it. It is made up of equitable environments where all staff members, the community, the organisations, diverse identities are valued and appreciated.

To me Jeanette, the most important part of all of this is that inclusion fosters a sense of belonging - a psychological safety - so that, in a nutshell, is how I define the EI, diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Yes, and definitely something to really think about, right ,because there are these different layers of how people feel, how they're perceived, and I think they are very important in all the strata of society. However, today we'll be focusing mainly about the design and what do we mean by this? We're looking into architecture. We're looking at engineering of a city. The visual communication that there is within a city and how people behave within a city and therefore we need to make sure as well to ensure that they feel comfortable within the space that they live, and they work.

So, sometimes we get a bit blind sighted so to speak, as designers, because we always look at or we just look at people with physical disability, for example. But inclusion is not just that, they've just defined, it's a much broader way of looking at it. So, in your opinion, how do these three words that we've just defined equity, diversity, and inclusion, how do they fit in a design context?


Excellent question Jeanette. So specifically in a design context I think from, you know from, and I'm in no means an expert on design, it would relate back to how, as you said, we include everybody and you're saying the focus is on disability, but in the UK we've got 9 protected characteristics. We then also include sexual orientation, gender, religion, etc. So, from a design perspective, it's including all of these protected characteristics when you think of your design element. Now for example, I'm going to use the example of when malls were being designed years and years ago when there wasn’t an inclusive representation at the top and decisions were being made in designing malls and when they went down to designing the restrooms in these malls you had mainly men at the top making the decisions on how that design would work. So, to be fair, so they said, ok, let's be equitable here. Let's divide that space into half. So, half would be used by women and half would be used by men, right? We're taking the box on being equitable. What did that mean actually? Women need more time in the bathroom than men. By having urinals in the men's toilets that means you come in and out much quicker than you would. Not having women at the table to help with the design elements means they didn't take into account the requirements that women; have so gender was missing from that design element and so this can be taken into space.

The way I see it, we don't know what we don't know, so it's never in any industry and specifically in design if you go back to that, if you don't know what is the requirement by different classes, so I'm using my example, I mean I, you know travelled by Metros, trains all over the world. All well and good, until I had a child and then suddenly, oh, the ramps are missing. The lifts are missing. I didn't know what I didn't know and now from a different perspective, it's and so from a design element it's very important that there's representation by the people that are making these decisions based on design and factors for the community at large to be able to understand what that community really needs or what that space really needs, and to be able to bring those different perspectives into consideration when decisions are being made from a design specific angle.


Indeed, and perhaps communication and consultation are also key in this because you might not have a representation of all of these characteristics as you scored them, but if you start a conversation early in the project, early in whatever you're embarking on, then you'd have a conversation directly with the people who are being affected by these decisions.

So yes, representation, communication and consultation I think are very important. And not just within the built or let's call it unbuilt environment, because the spaces between buildings are also very important to provide safety and you know a sense of belonging and wonder that you were talking about earlier, but we also need to include branding and visual communication of products that will be plastered on billboards, on posters and already made that make up part of the fabric of our city. How inclusive are these brands, are they really what the end users want? Is it representative of what they need - different characteristics?


Uhm, yes, Jeanette you were completely right in summarizing that. I think for any element of design in any feature, whether that's architecture or graphic design: data, and dialogue, so you don't have to have every person on the board that represents the community you're talking to, but you need the data, and you need to continue those conversations right from the very start to make sure that the end product is talking to the community that's inclusive of the community you are catering to.

From a brand perspective I want to go back to the to, you know what a brand is really and what are consumers expecting from brands. So, consumer expect brands to serve as connectors, whether that means fostering connection with their own customers or bringing together people with different perspectives. And, you know, data is saying in fact, that there's nearly 2/3 at 64% of consumers want brands to connect with them, while just half expect brands to bring people together towards a common goal.

So, inclusion in branding the way I see it is representation. It's a visual representation. So, who do you see? I mean, you know we look at Mattel. Barbie dolls were always blonde and blue eyed and now they have changed that and included to have Barbie dolls that are from different backgrounds. Black, brown, different hair and so representation and visual representation from a very early age really matters. In terms of you know other things that branding are we. Are we considering video captioning? Are we looking at deeper audience profiles? Are we looking at image descriptions, text, accessibility? You know all of this stuff? Is it being considered? Uhm, when brands are looking at making sure that they're inclusive to a diverse audience.


And so, how can we embed these steps into a culture of inclusivity? Because what you've mentioned is, I mean, I completely agree, but it's almost overwhelming, right? So, we have to start from somewhere. What would the key steps be in this culture?


Correct, you know it's all well and good to say that we need all of this, but how do you do it. So how do we embed a culture of diversity? How do we embed a culture that makes people feel included in whatever they are a part of? Whether that's a community or an organization. So, I think the first step, Jeanette in embedding a culture, is establishing a sense of belonging for everyone. That is the first step, and you have to work backwards from there. Really for each individual to bring their best step forward a sense of belonging must first be established. Having a connection to the organization or the group of people that makes them feel that they can bring their best self to work. Because what that does is fosters engagement and creativity. It's a psychological need of us as humans and to make this happen leadership is key.

You have to make sure leaders are equipped to make their own, make the story their own. They need to be empathetic. The, you know, the hierarchical top-down approach is almost not working anymore in a lot of environments because people you know, the people that work for leaders want to make, you know, want to feel that they care for them. That it matters how they feel and why it should matter to you. Know what is it that matters to the direct reports of these leaders. A top-down approach isn't enough anymore.

Top-down approaches drives compliance, but they don't drive commitment. From senior leaders to frontline employees, every individual must see and understand their role in a company culture. This means identifying differences in employee experience and values across organisations so that change can be made relevant to each person knowing that lasting change must activate different parts of the system.

Top down, bottom up, middle down. What you know. Middle out, whatever that means in different ways. It needs to be encompassed as this whole. And you know in terms of really embedding it inclusion is an ongoing, it's not a one-off training, which is why you know the government in the UK said “we are not going to do unconscious bias training anymore” because you come in to 1/2 an hour or one hour of training and that's not a tick in the box. Job done. That's not how it works. It isn't enough to teach employees what it means to be inclusive like any other form of behaviour change, inclusion requires individuals to identify key moments in which to build new habits or micro behaviours as you call it.

Micro behaviours are daily actions that can be practiced and measured, and when these habits are put into action in an environment that supports honest conversation and healthy change, real change becomes possible from that.

So those are, you know some of the key steps that can be taken by organisations in a design context or really in any context on embedding diversity and inclusion in their culture.


You touched on something which is going to be my next question and this element of box ticking and tendencies for diversity and inclusion in architecture, the built environment and maybe further afield as well, becoming just a matter of haven't we done this? Yes, box ticked. We're fine, we should be, you know, good to go. And it is important, I think, for any designer to avoid from falling into this bad habit of box ticking and making sure things are, you know, the least effort possible basically cause that is what I think it boils down to and how do you think therefore that we can face these problems; these issues with race, gender, diversity, all the other characteristics you were mentioning.


Excellent. So, what you're describing in the world of EDI is called tokenism. You've got the one black person in your company that you've hired to tick the diversity box, so let's put that black person in front of, you know, photo opportunities, introducing them to clients. Of course, this isn't going to work in the long term.

So, what can organisations do to avoid tokenism? Firstly, they should treat diversity as a policy and not a tick box exercise or a check list. First things first. Stop thinking about numerical goals. We can't get rid of them in the business world. We will you know we need to measure by numbers, and we can't be stopped from doing that, but at the same time, no hiring or promoting manager should be thinking about diversity when making a decision, they should be thinking about performance and motivation. Instead, thinking of diversity as a policy transition. That's what they need to think about. How can you make your jobs more visible and appealing to a diverse candidate pool? How can you make the roles or employee policies more inclusive for people outside of your majority culture? If you make these changes, the numbers will take care of themselves. Don't approach diversity like a checklist in which you need X number of board members, or X engineers from minorities, instead find ways to change the policies so that employment is more inclusive overall.

The other thing that organisations can do to avoid tokenism is to measure impact over the percentage. Checklist diversity leads to a common failing in data analysis. Impact versus percentage. Perhaps 15% of your board are women but do they have a sway in discussions vote or do they lead projects. Perhaps you have 20% minority population, but are they influential? Excluding these observations can lead to on paper diversity without real inclusion.

The sole of tokenism is creating roles that essentially neutralize a diversity hire like a board member with no effective power or influence. If the employees that contribute to your diversity score are not involved in the company culture, then no real changes have been made in the company culture or in the opportunities being created for minority professionals. Take into account the impact that each minority employee is making and the impact of each new role you're hiring for. Diversity has more meaning and greater potential to create a diverse company culture when the team members have a say in what's going on in the company.


And I think the same is true. The same parallels can be drawn with respect to projects. Say for example, we're designing an open space and we are designing for diversity and inclusivity. Then we might, for example, need to think of clever ideas in which we're going to be designing an accessibility ramp, for example, does not need to be at the back of somewhere where people have to look for it rather than it being such that it is really included in the design.

I think along the same topic of open spaces, safety is also important that people feel as though they can cross the space and open space in the evening on their own and safely that there is adequate lighting or perhaps there is a passive sort of surveillance that there are people close by that, you know, if something were to happen that you would be able to seek for help. So, I guess the element that you've talked about could be equally interpreted for an organizational structure as well as a project on how and how these elements can be included in there. And while we're on the topic of, you know, being sustainable. There is a very strong link, I believe, between what we're just talking about now about equality inclusion, and its link to well-being and then consequently to the Sustainability Development Goals as have been defined by the European Union. So, what do you think about them? I mean, how I? I think they're very important. But from your perspective, how would they link?


Yeah, definitely there is a very strong link between the SDG’s and the EDI. So obviously this is part of the UN agenda for 2030 and there's specific factors within the sustainability goals, which is 17 if I'm correct that directly linked to EDI, so for example: quality education, gender equality, reducing inequalities. Now, those are direct links between the EDI, but I, you know, innovation is a big goal as well and I look at that as a direct link because by having diverse perspectives; diverse perspectives that feel psychologically space to bring their best selves to projects and work; that's where innovation will happen.

Innovation comes from cognitive diversity. Cognitive diversity that has a voice. So that has a direct link to EDI, and you know, and well-being and inclusion are essential for a happy, high performing and productive workspace.

Organizations should create health and wellness as a core and foundation pillar and building strong, sustainable people-oriented organization. So, in terms of the SDGs as a direct link, but you know well-being and mental health. We all know the pain of not feeling like we do not belong and so when we don't belong, how does that, you know, how does that affect us mentally? And then when we come to work, what do we bring to work? Which part of ourselves, you know, do we feel that if we can't be ourselves, can we raise our voice and bring that innovation to the fore? No! So, you know well-being is an overall impact not only on the direct, probably the financial bottom line of organisations, but also the mental health of employees and how that impacts on the ground.


Yes, it's amazing how this term sustainable development is far more reaching than maybe some of us have restricted it to be so. Thank you for that Rikita. My last question for today and I know that this is going to be a difficult one but: is there any silver bullet, any magic wand at any quick fix that's in your opinion designers could concentrate on while embarking on a project.


Well, if there was then I think half of us wouldn't have a job right. I mean it's no there can't be. It's such, you know it's such deep work that's required all around at every level of the organization that they're, you know I don't think there is a silver bullet. There are, you know, as we look to move the dial further beyond, you know, just the EDI front, It has become clear that board diversity is only one piece of the puzzle, so we say, well, if you've got representation as the top, then we've probably ticked all the boxes and we're good to go. No, for a truly inclusive future, companies need to think critically about employee experience. You know as designers as, you know, in projects. Who are you designing for and what's their experience at the end. You have to implement specific data driven recommendations which tackle the pain point for this diverse audience. So, it's a lot of things that would work in tangents for it to work.

Data, conversations that we referred to at the start of our discussion, which need to be ongoing, which need to be done from the start to have the basis right and leadership across the board needs to work together at all levels for this to work. So yeah, the short answer is there isn't a silver bullet, and a lot of factors need to work together in tangents, to me, the most important is data and dialogue that would really impact on the ground.


Exactly so Ritika if I may, a few pearls of wisdom that we also be taking away with us today, maybe something small for each of the stakeholders that would usually encounter in a design project within a city. So maybe the public, designers or entrepreneurs, authorities,... what would your key points be?


Oh right, I mean, we've referred to a lot of stuff during the entire discussion, but I think you know the key points overall is that representation matters at every level. Whether you're you know who you're designing for? Who's making those decisions? What's the community looking like? And making all of that work in tangents and that would come from cognitive diversity. So, hiring people that are that are different and not having echo chambers that have the same ideas and thoughts at all levels. And I think for specifically for designers and entrepreneurs accepting and celebrating the individual as they are. I think that would be my top tip. Really, the cultural identity that comes from that inclusion and diversity need to be taken into consideration right from the start of the design process and embedded into the company culture and not be an afterthought.

We have gone through what it means to embed EDI within the company culture so that needs to be taken into consideration. I think for authorities and for the government planning system has a very important role to play. How open spaces are maintained and how people flow through spaces safely, as you mentioned Jeanette, spaces between buildings we need a system that needs the right questions to be asked and people within the system that are willing to be open to the answers that are given as part of that.


Thank you so much Ritika. You have given us some interesting food for thought there.

This is Ritika Wadhwa and you are listening ‘The Human Agenda’. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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