Not convinced by all this talk of inclusion and diversity in the workplace? Reckon it’s all ‘political correctness gone mad’ or even just a ‘woke’ liberal cause for right-on snowflakes?
Well, just take a quick look at some classic 1970s television and marvel at how far its agenda and point of view is entirely white, straight, middle class and male. The outcry against touchy-feely positive discrimination or affirmative action may simply be the tantrum of those having their privileges and sense of entitlement challenged.
Such was the reaction in the UK a century ago when women successfully won the right to vote; it happened in the USA when Lincoln abolished slavery and again, a century later, in the 1960s when Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement got segregation and the Jim Crow laws repealed. Sadly, it’s having to happen all over again right now as the Black Lives Matter movement protests against institutionalised racism around the world.
Progressive reforms around the world since the 1960s have improved human rights to inclusion and diversity across the board, from decriminalisation of homosexuality, legislation to promote race and sex equality, and more recently, same sex marriage, transgender rights and disability rights. In every single case, there is a barrage of opposition from the narrow-minded, who can’t seem to embrace the concept of live and let live.
All of these watershed moments represented major victories for tolerance, inclusion, diversity and equality. None of them on their own made the world perfect, but they did move it down the road towards getting kinder. These are societal events, but the tensions and stresses of those changes are reflected in workplaces everywhere.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that these landmarks represented a total shift in deeply ingrained attitudes. Historic change can happen overnight; cultural change can take generations. That’s as true in the workplace as anywhere else. A century after women won the franchise, it looks like we’ll have to wait another century, at the current rate of progress, before the House of Commons reaches 50% female representation.
This is despite the compelling evidence that, during the Covid-19 pandemic, female political leaders – with much more diverse cabinets – performed much better than the highest profile populist male leaders. Just compare the unifying achievements, collaborative approach, empathetic communication and popularity of Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, Mette Frederiksen in Denmark and Angela Merkel in Germany with the bluster, lying and divisiveness of Donald Trump in the USA, Boris Johnson in the UK and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Inclusion and diversity is not about attacking straight, white males per se. On our own, we are all individuals. No single person can be described as diverse: that is a function of groups. But there are good reasons to consider that inclusion and diversity is in everyone’s interest and to everyone’s benefit. Whether it’s performance, productivity, profitability, quality of decision-making or ability to innovate, the more diverse and inclusive a company is the better it does in all these KPIs.
To offer just one example: the link between improving gender equality and boosting economic growth is already widely accepted. In fact, the figures are mind-boggling. A report by McKinsey, the consultancy group, estimated that achieving full gender equality in the workforce would increase global GDP by $28 trillion – yes, $28 trillion – a year by 2025. That could come in handy as we find ourselves mired in the deepest recession in history.
The investment world has long been a preserve of testosterone-driven male behaviour characterised by so-called masters of the universe taking big bets on raging bull markets. This arguably reached its acme just ahead of the 2008 global financial crash. Significantly, gender lens investing really started to gain momentum shortly afterwards.
However, reaping the benefits of diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace does depend, to an extent, on understanding exactly what each of these terms mean. Although they are often bandied about interchangeably, they are far from being synonyms.
Defining your terms
Broadly speaking, equality is about fairness and ensuring everyone has the same rights and opportunities regardless of age, race, disability, gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion and belief, married or civil partner status, and pregnancy and maternity.
Diversity is about creating a workplace culture that recognises, values and embraces difference in its broadest sense.
Inclusion refers to an individual’s experience in the workplace and the extent to which they feel welcome, valued and included. Do they feel they belong?
Diversity is the what; inclusion is the how. Or, if you prefer, diversity is the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle while inclusion is the act of making them fit together. One campaigner for inclusion puts it this way: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”.
Companies that really get behind diversity and inclusion are pleasantly surprised to find that it works. Research by Deloitte showed that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments. Another major study, for the Australian Institute of Directors, discovered that organisations with inclusive cultures have a gift that just keeps giving: they are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets; three times as likely to be high-performing; six times more likely to be innovative and agile; and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes
Beware the illusion of inclusion
But workplace D&I initiatives (to use the popular acronym), however well-intentioned, often run into difficulties. There’s a danger in treating it as a compliance issue, a top-down, numbers-based, box-ticking exercise that fails to achieve buy-in or commitment. Meeting a quota is a far cry from creating genuine inclusion which is about the quality of the individual’s everyday experience, not the payroll statistics. Inclusion is an ongoing, dynamic process that’s all about creating new habits and behaviours, not paying lip service with a one-off training session.
Women and girls comprise the world’s largest marginalised population, and research indicates that improving their economic status would have a beneficial impact on nearly all of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals and not just in terms of Goal 5 which specifically seeks to improve gender equality.
There is strong business evidence to support the view that a more female-oriented approach leads to consistent outperformance. Companies with three or more female board members have been shown to generate substantially higher returns on equity, on sales and on invested capital than companies with no women on the board. They also achieve net margins that are on average 6% higher than those companies with male-dominated leadership teams.
Faced with such overwhelming evidence of the benefits of inclusion and diversity, putting it front and centre of a company’s culture and strategy seems like the ultimate no-brainer.
Unsurprisingly, a growing number of companies – from forward-thinking, dynamic start-ups and SMEs to global giants and household names – are keen to raise their game in terms of D&I while also avoiding the traps and pitfalls of unconscious bias. Many have benefitted greatly from the wisdom, experience and energy of two Speaker Buzz speakers: Lauren Currie, OBE, and Manal Rostom.
A conversation that can transform your business
Their passionate, entertaining and insightful talks act as a powerful catalyst to galvanise organisations into transformative action and start conversations that need to be had.
Both speakers have that rare gift of being able to open minds and shift perspectives. Their authentic voices are part of a workplace movement that is growing in momentum, even as some seek to turn the clock back as part of the depressing so-called culture wars.
Reimagining the inclusive workplace
We’re all familiar with FOMO, fear of missing out: this widespread social anxiety is recognised as one of the blights of social media. It leaves people feeling stressed and affects their self-esteem and self-worth. Well, in the absence of diversity and inclusion, millions of people every day are not just afraid of being left out. They know they are being left out in the workplace and it takes a terrible toll on their mental and physical health as well as squandering the vast potential they have to contribute.
But enlightened workplaces that understand how to create a more inclusive culture will benefit greatly from the diversity of thought, talent, experience and knowledge to which they now have access. They’ll learn how to do things differently and better. This leads to a happier, more fulfilled and more productive workforce and a much more successful organisation.
That’s not political correctness gone mad: it’s humanity empowered and at the top of its game.