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It's time for diversity to stop being an initiative and start being a normal part of life.
As we approach the end of 2016 I wonder if we have really made any real progress on diversity in the past year. Yes I know we have seen an increased level of chatter about the importance of diversity and yes I admit that I have been some important diversity initiatives but we still seem to be a long way from a time in which diversity stops being an initiative and start being a normal part of life.
It seems as though we’re still on the level of targets and quotas rather than simply accepting people for what they can bring to the mix. Now I admit that whilst targets can be a good way of raising awareness, they are by no means the only solution. In fact when Lord Davies undertook a five year mission in 2010 to improve gender balance on boards, he took the view that publicity and encouragement and challenge would be more effective than compulsion and so it proved.
But despite that and other initiatives the overall impression still seems to be that diversity is something which has to be ‘done’ within businesses rather like health and safety or the need for an audit. People are talking about it, we are being asked to disclose what we are doing but does it really add anything to the overall performance of the business!
In answer let me quote from the Great British Diversity Experiment which was launched in 2015 by the communications industry. Their conclusion was that diversity “enables people to be their authentic self, drives new connections which result in new solutions and enables ideas to win through meritocracy not cultural consensus.”
I could quote from any number of other reports which show the way in which diversity brings a great range of experience to business, adds to boardroom ability, enables organisations to better represent their customers, promotes innovation, encourages investment and so on. But whilst there are any number of incentives to change; true diversity is not going to take hold in organisations until it stops being seen as an initiative and start being a natural element of the mindset and culture.
You may well have a value or mission statement which says that you promote diversity but I would ask you to stop and think for a moment about whether your statement is merely words or whether it is baked into your culture. Is your business really open to everyone? Does everyone regardless of age or gender or background or experience or any other criteria have an equal opportunity to maximise their talents for the benefit of the organisation?
Diversity and inclusion and equality aren’t simply the latest buzzwords in a long line of business bandwagon initiatives. By ignoring them you are closing your business mind to the wealth of potential that diversity can bring. So stop looking at targets and instead look around you. You may be surprised at what you find!