On Coco Pops and Integration

Updated: May 30, 2020

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Why choose one?

Among those privileged to work from home during these times, growing tired of Zoom calls, trying yet another new recipe for baked cheesecake (because why not), getting used to my favourite furry officemate, my dog Nero, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my work, in between working. My work of advocating and creating action plans for Diversity and Inclusion at global organisations. What does this mean? 

We’ve all been talking about Diversity & Inclusion for a decade and a half. We’ve discussed what comes first, “diversity, then inclusion,” or “inclusion, then diversity,” a philosophical chicken or egg broken record player (messy). While global leaders have been racking their brains on how to “hack D&I,” no one has gotten anywhere. We struggle to see diversity in our boardrooms and C-Suite. Countless opinion pieces continue to come out describing a sense of exclusion, even when underrepresented groups do reach top positions. So with all this talk of diversity and inclusion, it’s hard to claim that we are making headway in either area.

So what’s missing? What are we getting wrong? For a long time, I’ve struggled with this concept of inclusion as it is practised at the organisations I work with. Inclusion, “an act of taking in as part of a whole”, suggests blending. However, why are we trying to minimise or blend our differences, when we ultimately want diversity? When we pair diversity with inclusion, we are demanding two, potentially opposing goals.

What does this look like now? One of the first actions organisations take when seriously committing to a D&I plan is to set up Employee Resource Groups, ERGs. While helpful in creating platforms to discuss shared experiences in the workplace among underrepresented groups, including people of colour, women, people with disabilities, these breakout groups can further isolate and divide organisations. Set apart from the rest of the organisation, these structurally marginalised ERGs are left to “fix” their organisation’s D&I problem. These groups discuss ways of further inclusion into an organisation, while being excluded from the leadership table.

Instead of Inclusion, I propose Integration. How do we live and honour our differences as valuable to an organisation, rather than something to minimise? Bear with me, I’ve got a story.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my dear Mum had to feed her ravenous rapidly growing boy, keeping the pantry stocked as I ate my way through it. A staple was cereal, but one kind was not enough. She kept me happy with the variety packs of mini boxes of cereal- Coco Pops, Rice Krispies, Cornflakes. Not just to mix it up, but because one box was not enough for me, I’d eat three in a sitting. Why choose one? Coco Pops, Rice Krispies, Cornflakes, all as different as can be and all uniquely valuable in my giant cereal bowl (you’re giggling, but I am serious). While my taste in food has become more sophisticated (mostly), an appreciation for variety (and cereal) still stands. And that’s how Variety Pack came to be. 

When people feel integrated and supported because of, not in spite of their differences, we may be on to something.

Frank Starling is Founder and MD of Variety Pack

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