Good for people, good for business

Equality, diversity and inclusion: hardly a new concept in the life and culture of businesses but one which arguably takes on a new significance in a post-COVID world. I met up with fellow ED&I specialists Chris Wright and Susan Popoola to explore some of the key issues surrounding ED&I as businesses start to adjust to a new way of working.  The subsequent murder of George Floyd and global outcry for racial equality further enhances the need for businesses to consider ED&I. 

Let’s start with a reality check. Equality, diversity and inclusion are basic human rights and yet in far too many organisations they are still seen as tick box exercises or, worse still, submerged by a group think culture. Even in those organisations which profess to promote equality there is a vast gulf between those at either end of the spectrum.

At the D&I awards last year for which I was a judge we saw plenty of examples of great D&I initiatives in organisations. And they can all make a difference but most paled into insignificance when set against the approach taken by the eventual winner. That organisation had embedded D&I into their culture and strategy by, amongst other initiatives:

    • working with the job centre to offer roles to long term unemployed as well as those with disabilities that had struggled to find work;
    • employing people partially sighted people to work in their call centres;
    • hiring people with autism to work from home.

 

That organisation’s approach perfectly illustrates the way in which ED&I can be transformative when seen as an intrinsic part of culture and structure. Aside from the impact that transformation can have on people’s lives and livelihoods, such an approach can also be good for business. There are plenty of statistics out there but how about:

    • companies that have diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue;
    • racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%;
    • inclusive companies are 1.7X more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.

 

With that in mind, what ED&I lessons have we learned in the last few months and how can we take them back into the workplace as we ease out of lockdown?

Communication is key

The first area that we all agreed on was the important role which communication can play not only as a means of being able to keep teams intact through the lockdown but also as a way of ensuring that certain groups or individuals are not siloed. But it is not just communication which is important; it is the right type of communication which looks towards answering individual needs.

For example, holding a compulsory online pub quiz might seem to be an ideal way of boosting a team ethos. However, the introverts amongst your team may disagree; not to mention those who may have to juggle work and caring responsibilities.

On the other hand, targeted communication which takes account of individual circumstances can make a significant difference to inclusion and engagement. And that starts by taking time to really understand your people.

Us and them

Targeted communication may have stood us in good stead over the lockdown period but what of the return to work? It’s one thing to create a sense of cohesion when we are all in the same boat but what happens when some are in the office whilst others are still working from home or other venues? It’s a particularly pertinent question when you consider that some businesses have opened up the way for their people to continue to work from home if they wish to leading to a recent survey indicating that 30% of individuals intend to remote work wherever possible.

The challenge therefore is to take the learnings from the lockdown and translate them into an integrated working ethos. There are two key strands here; leadership and technology.

Leadership & Technology

Being a next generation leader who fosters diversity in the team and actively seeks to understand how to get the best from people may require a very different style of leadership from the old command and control methodology.

For a start it means moving away from an unconscious bias created by a focus on qualifications and experience; in its place moving towards inclusive recruitment which seeks out the untapped talent pool and asks what people can bring to the business. It also means an end to presenteeism (office or home desk); looking towards output and outcomes rather than how long they are in the office. More importantly it looks towards a new dynamic in which discussions and decisions are inclusive rather than imposed on those working away from the office.

This moves us on to the effective use of technology. We’ve seen over the course of the pandemic how some communication, collaboration and productivity platforms have come to the fore. Continuing to use these platforms and others like them will undoubtedly help but do they meet the needs of all your people? Just catering for the mainstream would leave a  wealth of untapped resources. For example, we may have identified a need for voice activated programmes for some of our team but why should we restrict that resource to those individuals. Could deploying those tools across the board help others to be more productive and make it the working ‘norm’?

Time to learn

Businesses have had a reality check. We may have had discussion in the past about ED&I, we may even have taken some tentative first steps towards a more integrated workplace, but we have never before had the jolt which we need to truly act. As we rushed out of our workplaces in March we may never have thought just how much our attitude and approach would change in just a short space of time.

We’ve now seen what is possible; how people can join together to deliver for the benefit of the organisation and its customers. We’ve started to understand that true work-life balances can help us to be more productive and more rounded people.

And this is only the start. As workplaces open up it could be tempting to slip back into old familiar patterns of thinking and acting. Don’t! This is your chance to springboard towards something special; to remove the labels and boxes that we assign to people and instead deliver an open culture which embraces and draws on the opportunities which arise from equality, diversity and inclusion. We’ve had the wake up call, reinforced by the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.  Now it is time to have the discussion, to learn and to act.