Diversity and inclusion (D&I). Two little words that make a big impact. Unilever, the consumer goods company is analysing employees’ DNA to tackle unconscious bias, and ITV is banning all-male writing teams. Yes, D&I seems to be at the top of the HR agenda nowadays, but do businesses truly understand what it means, beyond tokenism and quota-filling?
Alas, the answer for many is no. They’re not doing it ‘wrong.’ They could just do it better. It needs to become a part of the wider business strategy. For that to happen, people have to learn. And they can’t do that without listening.
When I met the head of I&D at Lloyd’s Bank two years ago, I asked her: ‘What’s the one hack that’s had the biggest impact on your business?’ Without hesitation, she just said, ‘Swapping diversity and inclusion around.’
It seems really simple. Too simple, maybe?
But when you lead with ‘diversity’, it actually makes a real difference. If you say ‘diversity’ to someone like me – a straight, white, middle-aged, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender, neurotypical male – then they might just switch off. I’d love to think we all care about others, but we’re humans. We’re hardwired to survive, and in a world moving so fast, with the stresses of modern life and technology and a whole host of other stuff, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and just say, ‘Diversity isn’t for me, it’s for someone else.’
Once someone switches off like this, you can’t reach them. You can’t educate them. Focus on inclusion first, and you’ve still got them. Inclusion seems more relatable. Less radical. But diversity without inclusion, or vice versa, is just as radical.
Radical might be too soft a word – ‘pointless’ might work better. Some businesses rate themselves very highly when it comes to I&D, but you soon realise they’re severely lacking in either one or the other. Inclusion without diversity means you’re simply missing out on the difference that leads to better business ideas, increased creativity and ultimately better business performance; diversity without inclusion leads to those who are seen as ‘different’ feeling excluded, disengaged and ineffective.
The balance needs to be just right. In the past, women and people who identify as they often fit into traditionally masculine workplaces by adopting traditional masculine traits: being competitive, authoritative, less emotional. That’s not an inclusive workplace – it’s regressive. It doesn’t tackle the root of the problem and perpetuates a monoculture where nothing changes.
The ‘non-males’ shouldn’t have to thrive in a man’s culture. Men should be trained to work alongside them to change culture.
To ensure inclusion and diversity aren’t mutually exclusive, you have to create an open environment. Basically, just as the straight, white, middle-aged, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender, neurotypical males have to clean their ears and listen, minority networks must develop an inclusive approach to the change they want to create, and collaborate with the people they’re appealing to. No minority group has made meaningful change in an echo chamber, so engaging the majority and other minority groups is key.
And this change cannot be siloed, nor quota-based
If the responsibility of I&D is out-sourced to a role or a department, there is a real risk that it just turns itself into a silo. From our experience, I&D is only truly successful if it’s owned by the senior leaders and put at the centre of the strategy, ensuring the change happens across the whole business.
And I don’t think it should be driven by quotas. Sure, ITV is banning all-male writing teams. But do the male writers truly understand what’s driving this? If not, they’re likely to feel resentful, and some might even think their counterparts only got the job for that particular reason. And what happens to the people who fill those extra slots on those teams, who immediately feel under pressure, like they have to earn their keep?
Basically, unless a minority represents at least 30 per cent of the room, their voice is still going to be lost in the shuffle. Anything less than that 30 per cent risks coming off as a little tokenistic.
We can do better here. Businesses need to understand that without I&D, their performance suffers. That way, they’ll hopefully understand that it’s about actively looking for the best person for the team, not the job. This often means hiring someone different. Someone who can add to the current culture, rather than simply fitting into it.
A leader who doesn’t have a diverse team is at best lazy, and at worst not very good. Educate. Be educated. Understand diversity’s essential role and map out what inclusion looks like. Again, targets are important, but that can be measured by results. A target is aspirational, while a quota is mandatory. If the dial isn’t shifting over a year, two years or whatever, then your strategy isn’t working – mandatory or not.
Coca Cola European Partners, has started offering optional religious holidays. If an employee isn’t Christian, they don’t have to take Easter off. They can work it, and save that day for their own religious holiday if they wish. It’s lots of small changes like this that can make significant change when part of a coherent strategy. It’s not forced. It’s not part of a quota. It’s acknowledging the diversity within the business and making everyone feel included. Genuinely. It’s that simple.
Diversity and inclusion in its current format is broken. We need to fix it. We need to switch those two words around and lead with inclusion. We need to integrate it within an overall strategy, driven by senior management who have already recognised the need to understand the issues far better themselves. We need to communicate it through the entire organisation, supported by an education programme to inspire everyone to be better role models, allies and change-makers.
And we can do that together, without quotas. With everyone taking responsibility and making changes in every facet of the business, I&D will be actively sought rather than forced.