In 2010 the then Ford CEO, Alan Mulally, commented that when asked about the business case for diversity his answer was that diversity is “the only business case we need – the only way to satisfy diverse customers is to include their perspectives inside the company.”*
In the intervening years the importance of diversity and inclusion as a business and social driver has risen up the agenda with CEOs, analysts, politicians and thought leaders all adding their voices to the debate. Sometimes these voices are headline grabbing; the percentage of female board members in the FTSE 250, diversity in films evidenced at the Oscar ceremony and so on. But the true victories are being played out every day as more and more organisations ditch preconceptions and open their eyes to the richness which diversity can bring.
Sadly it’s an indictment on our brave new world that we still need to actively talk about and promote diversity and inclusion. In an ideal world there would be no need to talk about diversity because we would automatically and naturally to help everyone to make the most of their talents and abilities. In an ideal world organisations would look to embrace the greater potential which comes from a diverse range of talents, backgrounds and abilities.
But we are not yet in that ideal world. As Aldous Huxley commented in Brave New World “most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted” and as a result there are far too many areas in which we still see things as the norm rather than questioning whether there is a better way. Because of this there is still unthinking prejudice in which people make decisions based on a narrow perception of the constituency. And because of this we see misguided attempts to overcome a lack of diversity by imposing quotas, thereby negatively affecting one group by artificially boosting the prospects of another.
Quotas aren’t the answer; they still see people as things, as objects to be moved around the board. It’s only when organisations understand that every individual is unique that they can truly start to embrace the potential which diversity can bring. When an organisation is looking to deliver innovative solutions which will resonate with its customers then not only does it need a diverse range of people in order to represent customers within the company, it also needs a diverse range of talents, backgrounds and abilities in order to create real solutions to real problems.
Diversity is not only the only business case, it is also the way forward for a strong society in which everyone can play their part to the best of their abilities. With diversity and inclusion comes equality and opportunity making this one area in which business can lead the way towards societal change.