Why does representation still matter today? This question seems pretty obvious yet the fact that every single time when a so-called minority gains prominence and attention is highlighted on the fact that they are a minority, shows us exactly how much work there is still to be done. We can see it in the disparity between genders, race, or socio-economic status in leadership positions. The lack of representation is an issue that spans across all spheres of society from media to politics, the food industry to financial businesses. For corporations in all the different sectors, there are significant benefits of increasing representation.
1. Role models
It’s hard to be what we cannot see. Much of our identity, who we are and what we work towards, begins at a young age. Everything from the people surrounding us, figures we see in the media, to the way specific demographics are spoken about all influence the manner in which a young person perceives themselves and the world around them. In this world where much of society is segregated by specific attributes and circumstances that you are born with, it becomes much harder to imagine the possibilities. That is why representation is so important. With representation, we can bring role models to the current and future generation. By having people that look and talk like the diverse members of society in different spheres and positions, we can open up the possibilities of who we can become. It paves the road for future generations to aspire towards.
There is a concept called ‘symbolic annihilation’, introduced by Sociologists George Gerbner and Larry Gross, which describes the phenomenon that if you do not see people who look like you in the media, then you are probably unimportant. This concept can be extended to the work environment. By having a properly diverse demographic represented in different fields and levels in society, those who look, feel, or identify differently from the majority can feel more validated and confident to share their opinion. There is less pressure to conform and follow the flow as a way to not stand out. By fostering an environment where people are there because of what they, as an individual, can contribute, the work culture will be more inviting and open, allowing for new ideas and innovation to flourish.
Our specific differences do not define our entire identity. There is so much more depth and individual strengths that go beyond just that one difference. We are all shaped by our individual experiences which means that we all have something unique to bring to the table. With the different members of society represented, we are letting more perspectives and ideas be voiced. The increased competition, talent, and backgrounds foster innovation and development that is beneficial for both corporations and society as a whole.
Knowing the benefits of having representation does not make the fight to do so any easier. But as we all know, Rome was not built in a day. As long as we continue to have genuine conversations, be outspoken of the struggles, and share real stories of individuals, we can slowly change the collective mindset until diversity and inclusion becomes a norm.