Imagine the best parties you’ve ever been to. They always have the best mix of people, you never want to leave, and people talk about how brilliant they were for ages afterwards. Everyone who wasn’t there wishes they were at those parties, right?
If I can stretch this metaphor further, the best-ever get-togethers always feature folk from all walks of life, ages, religions, ethnicities, physical abilities, sexualities and genders all getting together, interacting, having fun. They’re always truly diverse.
What if all those people had been stood around the edges in their respective marginalised groups, not dancing. You’d be a bit sad they weren’t dancing, but still - they’ve turned up right?
But even worse - imagine if all those different people hadn’t bothered turning up in the first place, but you were somehow hoping everyone was going mad on the dancefloor. It would have been a pretty bad party, right? A total disaster?
Now imagine the party is your company’s workforce.
We know that diversity and inclusion are vital in today’s business world - some 87% of global organisations say it’s a priority, says a report by PwC.
It makes sound business sense after all - businesses perform better when they have greater ethnic and gender diversity. McKinsey’s ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ study earlier this year found that companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity in their executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile. For ethnic/cultural diversity, the former is 33% more likely to outperform the latter on profitability. The least diverse companies, in both gender and ethnic terms, were 29% more likely to be less profitable.
But we still have so far to go - in the PwC research mentioned earlier which was carried out last year, 42% of diverse respondents said they still felt diversity was a barrier for them progressing in their organisation and only 46% of respondents have adopted targeted programmes to recruit diverse candidates.
This is the problem right now - businesses are racing ahead to put inclusion policies in place, worrying about who will be dancing, without truly addressing the diversity issue first - ie who will even be there.
Many businesses are making the mistake of focusing on the needs of the folk they imagine will come to the party, without actually making sure everyone has shown up in the first place.
So you need a DJ or a whole diverse range of deck-botherers who are truly inclusive and understand the whole audience. Who gets what’s happening at the party, knows who everyone is and their backgrounds, their roles, their experience etc. Get the picture?
Now, dragging this metaphor back to your day-to-day business - who booked your DJs and who sent your invites? Have you considered that your CEO, not your doorman, needs to be in charge of who comes to this party?
Because you have to persuade, seek out and cajole the world to come in the first place by setting out exactly what your party is about, what it’s going to offer, how much fun it is and what it’s going to do to persuade you to stay - and the fact you already have the workplace in situ that will embrace and nurture the party goers. If you don’t, it’s just you in a room - and there’s no one dancing.
After all, most businesses find just shouting about hiring the more marginalised in society and admitting you hadn’t before, is easier than actually putting in place functional workplace cultures that actually embrace and nurture those people in the first place.
It’s not just about embracing the diverse too - it has to be intersectional as well.
All the fringes need to be reached out to. By helping all elements of society on the margins to benefit, the majority of us do too and that’s as true in business as it is in life.
Otherwise, the risk to business is waste of time, money and not getting the benefits that true diversity brings — products and services being designed, innovated, delivered by people who know how their train of thought is only going to resonate with their customer base.
Businesses need to be brave to push towards creating a new norm in society rather than just box-ticking to cover their backs. In everyone’s hurry to be truly inclusive, rather than making a few hires to improve the diversity picture, they need to fundamentally change their work cultures and the way they communicate. They need to have an inclusion policy in place already.
Diversity is important. McKinsey’s groundbreaking Diversity Matters report found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.
But everyone is rushing to an inclusion endgame, because it feels nicer - that, perhaps, it won’t come with so much pain and is, dare I say, easier. Or perhaps, they are merely watching their backs, rather than grasping the nettle, ripping up the rulebook and putting into place whole new structures in the workplace. But it won’t deliver results, and it won’t deliver change.
Inclusion is utopia. Of course we want to create an inclusive society so that everybody feels that they belong and they are engaged. But the only way to do that is to work out what’s going to engage all those different people and groups.
And everyone is trying to get there too fast.
By Lysanne Currie, CEO and Editor in chief of Meet the Leader.