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Goran Bašić, Director Of The Institute For Social Sciences

The Struggle For Inclusivity Is A Collective Marathon

Companies can do a lot to nurture diversity and create a company culture that’s inclusive, but it’s important for such policies to receive broader support, through an institutional framework and the commitment of the wider community. If this is not forthcoming, the results achieved will have a short range and a limited impact

Only a small number of companies succeed in striking a balance between the values underlying economic liberalism – such as profit, benefit and competitiveness – and inclusive values based on fairness, solidarity and human rights. This interview with Goran Bašić, director of the Institute for Social Sciences, shows that this relates to an extremely complex and delicate topic in a world that is ever-less inclined to nurture diversity.

Over the course of the last decade, the terms “diversity” and “inclusive company culture” have entered the lexicons of many companies. If we look at statistics on the participation of women, members of ethnic, religious or sexual minorities, or people with disabilities in workplaces at the global level, what do those stats tell us about the real-life implementation of these commitments?

– Unfortunately, the world we live in is becoming increasingly insensitive when it comes to diversity. Human rights charters, standards for their protection and partial inclusivity practises represent an inadequate response to people’s need to live with dignity. Contemporary liberal capitalism creates inequalities that hit many impoverished people, not just those who’ve been denied the right to work or to equally exercise their rights to basic work as a result of cultural deprivation, prejudice or discrimination. Under global conditions, experiences vary simply because the inclusion process is either non-existent or equated with social protection in countries where capitalism is strengthening and no culture of human rights and social solidarity exist. In democratic countries where a political culture that’s interwoven with human rights has already developed, the social inclusion process is unfolding, but even in these countries there are still serious obstacles, difficulties and the risk that it would be seriously imperilled by even a slightly stronger global economic crisis.

Finally, the enemies of social inclusion are ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. Public policies should be directed towards overcoming these phenomena, because full inclusion in society is otherwise not possible. It is difficult for citizens to cope under such circumstances, as they are burdened with personal problems, a lack adequate education for an inclusive society and such public policies and economies are incapable of addressing the need for interventions and the correcting of “injustice”.

Inclusion should be people-centred, i.e., directed towards promoting a healthy work environment in which employees, or the users of the services they provide, feel pleasant, motivated to work and accepting of diversity through trust, and not as a desirable political action

Does this topic attract the attention of researchers in our country and what kind of information do we have at our disposal?

– There is little information among our public when it comes to the results of social inclusion for groups that are at risk of poverty and social marginalisation. Although obligations have been prescribed for state bodies to monitor strategic processes, including inclusive policies towards Roma, persons living with disabilities, youth and other groups, this is either not done or is done in a dysfunctional way. The Institute for Social Sciences develops methodologies to monitor social inclusion policies, but it hasn’t encountered interested interlocutors in the public administration.

The data we have at our disposal, or that we could provide, are reliable and indicate the goals and good practises achieved, but also the numerous oversights, shortcomings and ambiguities in public social inclusion policies. One gets the impression that the public administration is not interested in dealing with the problems, but rather satisfies itself with implementing objectives, measures and activities that don’t require changes to infrastructure, management, decentralisation and the development of support. Researchers lose tremendous strength to overcome obstacles and resistance during the data collection process, while real problems are arising when it comes to the use of data. As a rule, the findings and analyses of research remain unused, because public policies are incapable of absorbing them in a progressive way.

Who should primarily deal with this issue: management and workforce administration experts, sociologists or psychologists?

– It is necessary to have a synergy of experts from various fields and at multiple levels. The basis for mapping and analysis is certainly a problem in organisations, institutions and companies where people exercise some of the rights arising from inclusive policies. Next, local governments and civil society have a very important role to play in developing support systems, and then planning and implementing inclusive policies. Managing inclusion is a complex process that demands good organisation and coordination among the public administration, local governments, civil society and academia. At this juncture, no such level of connectivity exists in any inclusive policy.

Companies have a tendency to work in accordance with the expected benefits that they can derive from the inclusion process and changing that attitude isn’t easy, as it doesn’t only depend on a company’s work ethic and policy, but rather also on operational success and stability of results

What do you think are the preconditions for creating an inclusive work environment? To what extent does it depend on the companies themselves, and to what extent is it dependent on the institutional framework, social context and examples set by the state itself?

– Companies and institutions themselves can do a lot, but their results are unfortunately limited and partial if there is a lack of institutional and social support.

As an example, which I’m not sure is representative but is certainly indicative, multiple researchers are employed at the Institute for Social Sciences, but the highest scientific ranks are held by men, which indicates a problem of essential inequality. The conditions at the Institute are the same for everyone, but without a shift in awareness regarding the role of women in our society, we cannot expect encouraging results to be forthcoming.

The situation is even more complex when it comes to the position of members of marginalised social groups who, in addition to changing their social habitus, also need institutional support in the local community.

Thus, it is necessary to shift the paradigm and programme of the education system, cultural policy and system of values. Complicating the situation even more is the fact that full inclusion hasn’t even been achieved by the economically developed countries of the European Union that have a higher social and political culture. Finally, it is also important for the private sector and personal initiatives to be included in the process itself, and this is currently at the level of the exception rather than the rule in our society, but also in many others.

In your opinion, how should general diversity be measured at the level of companies and how should it be improved? Is it a matter of using global indices or internal procedures to measure employee satisfaction or something else?

– It is certainly necessary to develop internal policies, procedures and methods of monitoring that are harmonised with international standards and national policies and regulations. However, inclusion should be people-centred, i.e., directed towards promoting a healthy work environment in which employees, or the users of the services they provide, feel pleasant, motivated to work and accepting of diversity through trust, and not as a desirable political action.

Companies have a tendency to work in accordance with the expected benefits that they can derive from the inclusion process and changing that attitude isn’t easy, as it doesn’t only depend on a company’s work ethic and policy, but rather also on operational success and stability of results.

Dismantling the welfare state and returning to values of economic liberalism contribute more to deepening differences than to promoting inclusion

What do you think about the possibility of introducing affirmative action measures to ensure an appropriate structure of workers?

– Affirmative action measures are more needed in other public policies, primarily education and local community support for families, with which inequalities are eliminated and people’s competencies are encouraged, thereby strengthening social trust and affirming equal life opportunities regardless of diversity. In the work process or when hiring employees, affirmative action measures make sense, but contemporary, technologically-organised and digitalised operations and work demand certain competencies. In this context, affirmative action measures have a limited effect and cannot provide a long-term contribution to solving this problem.

The reasons cited by companies for nurturing diversity include mapping the structure of consumer groups in order to better understand consumer attitudes, improving decision-making processes and ensuring a wide pool of talent, but also issues of morality and justice, i.e., creating equal opportunities. Is it important whether a company is motivated by profit or altruism, or does the end goal matter?

– I mentioned that companies have their own logic based on the values of economic liberalism in terms of profit, benefit and competitiveness. A system functions when a balance is struck between these values and inclusive values based on justice, solidarity and human rights. Unfortunately, this usually isn’t possible because inclusion doesn’t top the priorities of the public policymakers who should organise, implement, and promote inclusion. Dismantling the welfare state and returning to values of economic liberalism contribute more to deepening differences than to promoting inclusion.