“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities,” Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are certainly buzzwords for today’s business leaders and there are many who believe that once there is gender equality in the workplace that they have met the criteria required to meet present-day D&I standards.However, there is more to D&I than just gender and it is easy to work out why. Look around at your customer base – are they all cut from the same cloth? I very much doubt it.
In 2020 Ireland, we are a very diverse population from race, backgrounds, disability and faiths points of view. It makes sense to have your organisation representing your customers – obviously, this will mean that you can provide a better service or product by taking this diversity into account.
In the recent IoD Ireland report, Diversity in the Boardroom 2019, there is much emphasis on succession and maintaining gender balance while stating that “diversity in all its forms leads to enhanced board effectiveness and company performance”. The overall success of a company is also down to the performance of its employees who deliver the basic product and service. Diversity and inclusivity of backgrounds, experience, age, abilities and race will also bring about a more cohesive and productive workforce.
Certainly, promoting and supporting D&I in the workplace is an important aspect of good people management. People cannot just be lumped into groups – they are individuals and each one has something to give to the overall performance of their organisation.
While working as a Managing Partner of a financial services in Bulgaria, I found myself surrounded with an ex-pat management team while all the employees were Bulgarian. My self-imposed mission, while there, was to have a local as my successor. To this end, I had to be inclusive and recognise the differing cultures between all the various nationalities on the management team as well as those employees who would be my eyes and ears in the local marketplace. D&I at its best – when I left there after five years, the company had grown tenfold, partly, I believe, because of the recognition of differences within the organisation.
When diversity and inclusion of employees with different thoughts, backgrounds, identities and abilities is embraced, organisations will benefit in the long run. Considering diversity, in all aspects of life, helps bring about growth (of the person and business) and it also improves engagement and innovation allowing employees to reach their full potential. In 2007, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, during discussions with Allstate Corp on diversity stated that, “Inclusion is not a matter for political correctness. It is a matter of growth.” And, after all, that is what we, as business leaders, are ultimately looking for.
People matter, and no management decision should put any group at a disadvantage. Employees deserve an equal opportunity to develop skills to their full potential and to feel that they are fully supported in an inclusive environment. Recognition of work and having a meaningful voice leads employees to understand, and feel, their worth to an organisation.
Diversity Versus Inclusion
It is important to note that diversity and inclusion are two separate entities and while many organisations would ensure that they have a diverse workforce – in fact members of this ‘diverse’ workforce may not feel included within the organisation. Diversity, as mentioned above, is not just about gender equality and LGBTQ+. It is important to look beyond these to include race, sectors, specialisations, generations, disability (both visible and invisible), backgrounds and beliefs. Diversity, on its own, is not enough. A culture of inclusion is necessary in order to utilise the power of these individual diverse elements.Putting diversity and inclusion together in a thought-out strategy can only benefit your organisation. It allows employees to feel part of the brand and, as a result, they will act as loyal brand ambassadors both inside and outside of office hours.
Breaking Through Core Beliefs
It is crucially important that we have leaders, in our organisations, who can create inclusive cultures through their actions and behaviours. Many of our leaders have core values – many of which they were brought up with – and these do not always allow for D&I. They need learn more about Cultural Intelligence. At Common Purpose, we work with many organisations who are at differing levels on their D&I journey. We develop culturally intelligent, inclusive leaders who can cross boundaries. Our experiential learning, carried out using the city as a classroom, allows leaders to unpack their own culture/diversity to confidently work with other cultures. Our work has given us a unique insight into some of the shared challenges for organisations trying to deliver on D&I, but also the benefits that it can bring to organisations, big and small.