It’s the weekend of Pride here in Manchester, and since the Human offices have a birds-eye view of Manchester’s gay village we’ve been thinking about diversity. The progress made in the professional world over the last 30 years to include people from all walks of life has been significant and encouraging. Regardless of your race, sexuality, gender, age, or any other identifier, you now have a much better chance to get treated fairly at work based on your merit and nothing else.
But this has not come without backlash. We’ve all heard someone complaining about how things are “too PC” in 2018 or how “diversity has gone too far”. This kind of closed mindedness is usually directed at the introduction of people or ideas that are new to a business. When you interrupt the status quo, you’ll always upset someone.
Yet all of the evidence suggests that this kind of diversity is of huge benefit to the output of those teams, and ultimately the business itself. Forbes research found that inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time. At the same time, workplace discrimination currently costs the UK £127bn a year. Intentionally or not, the UK has a serious diversity problem.
To their credit, many businesses have recognised this and made efforts to diversify the backgrounds of the people in their teams. This could be producing a diversity policy or creating internal organisations to support different minority groups. One example of this in our own business is our hiring practice. We want to fight the stigma of tech and manufacturing being an ‘all boys club’, so make a concerted effort to use gender neutral language in our messaging, including job adverts.
However, much of this progress still feels a little half baked. That’s because what these studies truly value is inclusivity, which has some important distinctions from diversity and requires greater organisational change. Inclusivity differs from diversity because it requires people to have agency to speak their mind and influence decisions, rather than simply be present. But if these people don’t have a say in the decision making process - a seat at the table, if you will - then how can the benefits of these things be shared?
The true value of diverse teams is the broader depth of experiences, ideas, and approaches a more mixed team can bring to decision making. If we all reacted the same way, we'd be predictable, and there's always more than one way to view a situation. It's simple: overspecialize, and you breed in weakness.
Meaningful inclusivity requires organisations to reshuffle the decision makers at the top of their hierarchy, instead of simply producing a diversity document and hoping that results in better representation in the business. A BCG study found that “increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance.” Similarly, McKinsey research has found that “Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile”.
Whilst the topline benefits inclusive teams bring are impressive, when you’re in a commercially driven environment it’s easy to forget that not everything is about the bottom line. Diversity and inclusion shouldn't have to make quantitative business sense for it to be a priority - we should all be tackling it because it’s the right thing to do. It shouldn’t be left to only to the marginalised groups to action change in a business - it’s everyone’s problem. We must demand dignity and equality from all of the people we work with, amongst, and for, otherwise how can we purport to be inclusive ourselves? Financial achievements and social good are not mutually exclusive, and this toxic false dichotomy has arguably been responsible for much of the regressive attitudes still present in business circles.
This is an issue directly affecting more than half of the UK population, yet the movement to enshrine inclusivity as a core businesses practice as standard seems to be moving at a glacial pace. The lack of diversity and continued prevalence of workplace discrimination is one of the UK’s biggest productivity problems. In our increasingly broad & multicultural society, not having this diversity meaningfully reflected in the workplace only serves to make all of us poorer in the long run. As the socially empathetic millennials (and Generation Z following them) become a major chunk of the global workforce, businesses ignore the demands for workplace equality and inclusivity at their own peril.