The Reasons Why Standards and Technical Organisations need Greater Diversity

Introduction

For some people the topic of this blog post they may find unnecessary because either they think these are non-issues or ideologically driven as some sort of social justice warrior (SJW) agenda. Hopefully, I endeavour in this post not come across like that but raise new ideas and viewpoints and widen the conversion about why as groups of people and companies connected to standards and technical organisations need to consider greater diversity. Firstly, I will not be naming any organisations in this post because of this not a call-out to name and shame. Secondly, I do realise quite a few organisations already have plans in place to broaden the diversity of their workforce already either through their members or their support staff. Finally, these ideas came about from my attendance of meetings, conferences and workshops where I kept thinking to myself the majority of the time the make-up of these are mostly older men who have been around for twenty plus years and they little new blood has come into these organisations it seems at times.

The three areas of diversity I will be discussing are gender, age and ethnic/cultural. So gender is why there needs to be more of a fifty/fifty balance of male and female attendees, age is why there needs to be a broader age range and more young employees attending, and ethnic is about wider world views beyond the Western/First World viewpoint.


Gender Diversity

Gender diversity can be defined as the equitable or fair representation of people of different genders. It most commonly refers to an equitable ratio of men and women, but may also include people of non-binary genders. So why is this important for Standards bodies? Topics within standards now include accessibility, user interaction and experience within different types of technologies. These are especially relevant when it comes to eHealth, IoT, ITS, Smart Cities, etc. For standards and technical bodies to remain productive and competitive and meet the demands of the commercial, consumer and public sector markets, the industry needs to represent all parts of society. For examples when Apple first released their smartwatch and showed off its health functions for women it was lacking because it didn't include a period tracker or for numerous devices that make use of voice control do not work properly with a female voice but work fine with generally male voices. While technology companies are working to fix these problems they shouldn't have occurred in the first place if the companies had the knowledge and requirements for all members of society.

By not having a fair representation of people of different genders when standards are created it could or will lead bias in the content of the documents to be skewed to favour one gender over another even if that wasn't the intent. This problem should be simple to fix in that when the companies that are members of Standards and Technical organisations have meetings and working groups should have a balanced representation of genders. Though it should be noted such change will not happen overnight but over a period time as companies refresh themselves. Though these companies should aim to achieve this as quickly possible without dragging their feet and kicking the issue into the long grass.


Age Diversity

The area of age diversity might often be overlooked except in terms of recruitment to replace retiring workers but there is an argument to be made that having a broad representation of the age of the general population is better when designing and thinking about things standards. While we all use technology and devices in broadly the same way the motivation and purpose may vary between different age groups. Therefore if the people creating and writing the standards are majority older say 50 plus years it could lead to unintentional bias towards their own age group over others which are not a good thing in general.

There is no getting around the fact that the current workforce is ageing. Standards bodies and technical organisations are faced with challenges to replace these workers, many who bring valuable experience and knowledge to the table. The balance between retaining top-talent is weighed against the stark reality that these workers will not be around forever.

One solution is for standards bodies and technical organisations are to implement programs to utilise older workers effectively and to help them pass their knowledge to younger generations. Integrating older and younger workers help to foster opportunities for sharing. Typically, older workers can pass on a wealth of knowledge and years of experience to less experienced workers. Their knowledge is a valuable asset to companies. They are capable of mentoring other workers, and through this role, become motivated by engaging in meaningful work. Employers also benefit from knowledge sharing activities by employing a framework that is suitable for how the organisation is structured. Encouraging knowledge sharing communities requires supportive collaboration where everyone feels included in the process. Knowledge is rooted in policies and procedures, systems, documents and culture. Generally, this knowledge is related to actions and experience or articulated through communications and documentation.

Replacing an ageing workforce might look like a crisis for many organisations. However, this is actually a golden opportunity not only to retain valuable knowledge but also to make a transformative approach to recruitment and talent development. Cultural changes inevitably spark some levels of resistance — whether it is the older worker who wants to avoid becoming obsolete or the young worker who has something to prove. Nevertheless, hopefully, smart leadership from standards bodies and technical organisations, as well as their members, they will make sure everyone understands the importance of addressing knowledge gaps.


Ethnic or Cultural Diversity

The Oxford Dictionary defines cultural diversity as “the existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.” Culture is considered to be the underlying values that direct how people behave. Cultural diversity in the workplace is a result of practices, values, traditions, or beliefs of employees based on race, age, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Since Standards and Technical Organisations are meant to harmonise practises and roles of technology across countries and regions this is a key area that member companies need to be aware when creating new standards and guidelines.

By embracing diversity in the workplace, organizations can reap a number of benefits. There are a few of the benefits that companies should be aware of. The first benefit is the diverse viewpoints. Because of there many different backgrounds we all have differing experiences, skills, lifestyles and beliefs that we use when formulating strategies and decisions. Because of this each of us tends to look at problems through a different set of lenses. A variety of diverse people working together to solve a problem results in a more holistic view which ultimately results in higher performance. Diversity has also been shown to result in innovation. Similarly, embracing employees from diverse backgrounds allows organisations to be better able to serve people in other countries and in other languages. In other words, by having a diverse employee base, it increases their capacity to conduct business on a greater scale geographically. They also hold fewer assumptions about other cultures and are more aware of any cultural biases that they hold. When employees know their workplace embraces diversity, they are more likely to feel comfortable being themselves, and when they feel they can be themselves, their performance will increase. This is important for standards bodies whose main role ensuring different technologies work consistently across countries and regions with no impact for the ordinary user. Finally, a way to ensure this happens to have a diverse workforce when creating standards.

Conclusion

Hopefully, I here I have conveyed as to why it is important for standards and technical organisation to embrace greater diversity when carrying out their work. Since the results of the work they do are used by members and aspects of society (in theory across the world) it is only fair that when standards are created they represent the people who are going to be affected by them. Also, from a business perspective if the members' companies of these organisation embrace these aspects of diversity it should increase the potential number of customers they can sell their products to. Which should at the very least be a good thing for their profit margins. Any changes to diversity will not happen overnight but should be something that standards and technical organisations should aim to aspire towards. Though how they achieve greater diversity is up to them.


References

https://www.matchtech.com/gender_diversity_voice_of_the_workforce
https://www.1stcommercialcredit.com/blog/category/business-tips/replacing-an-aging-workforce/
https://www.deputy.com/blog/the-importance-of-cultural-diversity-in-the-workplace
https://medium.com/@Porpoise/importance-of-diversity-in-the-workplace-4e7ba048b3ef

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