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December 1, 1955 was an important day for diversity. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the bus in the “colored section” to a white person, as there were no free spaces. Nearly 65 years later, research shows that whites still occupy a privileged position in the world. Will the future of work be about diversity in the workplace? Why should we worry?
The Attainment Gap
In 2018, 78% of white students in the UK achieved either a first class or upper second-class degree. Only 53% of black students received similar qualifications. In the workplace, the Runnymede Trust suggests that black workers receive on average £5.30 less per hour than white equivalents. Women, disabled people, LGBTQI+ are all at a disadvantage in all aspects of life.
There are more CEOs called John than female CEOs in the FTSE 100 – and women aren’t even in second place – David is!
The Future is Inevitably Diverse
There are two explanations for this situation. Either white middle-class men are inherently more intelligent, more entrepreneurial, more valuable to society than everyone else is, or there is a structural injustice built into the system.
To be clear, there is no evidence from any reputable source that supports a natural superiority of the male, pale and stale super-species.
To be absolutely clear, the future of work is inclusive. Diversity in the workplace is not just a valuable asset; it’s inevitable.
Firstly, diversity is a valuable asset.
Mckinsey research clearly shows that companies that are more diverse are more productive, more efficient and give better returns to shareholders. This benefit comes from a number of sources.
1. Diverse companies are happy companies
When diversity is celebrated and inclusivity is mainstreamed, your best employees stay. They contribute more, perform more effectively and enjoy their work more. Happy workers tend to lead to happy investors.
2. Diverse companies are more creative
Companies that can bring a wide range of perspectives to the challenges of modern business are more likely to find innovative, creative solutions. That diversity of perspective can only come from a diversity of workforce.
A group of white men from Ivy League Universities, who go to the same golf club, is more limited in the resources it can bring to the table.
3. Diverse companies are more agile
We like people like us. If your marketing department represents only a tiny segment of your customer base, your campaigns will not reach the majority of people who have diverse backgrounds and are looking for different approaches and products.
As markets change, a company with a single voice cannot be sure that their solutions are robust; a monotone company is reactive, not proactive.
Secondly, diversity is inevitable.
A wheat field is vulnerable to disease and pests as the entire field is vulnerable to the same thing. A wild meadow is much more resilient and can support greater life because one pest will not eliminate all species.
The same is true for the evolution of business. Organizations that do not accept diversity will die out. They cannot survive a pluralist society.
The Cost of Getting Diversity Wrong
In 2018, two men were sitting, chatting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Like many others, they were continuing a conversation long after they had finished their coffee.
Although several others in the store were similarly without drinks, a Starbucks employee called the police to have the two men arrested for trespassing as they refused to buy coffee. The difference is that these two men were black.
The ensuing media storm and boycott forced Starbucks into action. They shut down every store worldwide to conduct mandatory racism training. This is how serious it is to get diversity right the first time.
Once an organization gets a reputation for being an inclusive workplace, achieving diversity in the workplace is easy. However, to get that reputation, the culture of business needs to change from the bottom up.
1. Change your recruitment strategy
A study at Yale showed that both men and women were not only more likely to recruit men to senior positions, they were also more likely to offer a male candidate on average $4000 more than an equivalent female candidate.
In debriefs, men are persistently considered more competent, to have more potential and be better leaders – regardless of objective evidence.
Unconscious bias influences every part of the recruitment process, from the language of adverts, to shortlisting, interviews and offers.
It is a key step to conduct a thorough impact assessment of your recruitment process to ensure that you offer a job on the basis of competency and actual potential, rather than “gut instinct” or “cultural fit” – both of which often hide unconscious bias.
2. Change the focus of diversity initiatives
When companies spend on diversity initiatives without seeing results, there is frequently a common factor. They focus on changing the under-represented groups rather than the company culture itself.
If your initiatives consist of merely giving BAME employees training, supporting LGBTQI+ or women’s networks the implicit message is that they are the problem.
The real problem in diversity is that we assume that white men are best – and that opinion is reinforced not only by white men. We need a full culture change that challenges decisions and evaluates them from a diversity perspective.
Diversity and inclusion must be mainstreamed, not an additional extra.
More and more governments are requiring organizations to publish pay gap data. But that only tells half the story.
If you truly want to be an inclusive organization, be brave enough to publish (at least internally) data that is not flattering on diversity. Challenge leaders to reflect on the culture they model.
Are they truly inclusive, or do they want merely to tick a box?
Carlsberg recently took a radical marketing strategy. Recognizing that a recipe change had not gone well, they changed the strapline that has been synonymous with the Carlsberg brand, “Probably the best beer in the world.”
In 2019, they challenged their customers with a new strapline – “Probably not the best beer in the world – so we’ve changed it.” Brave organizations can be open about their desire to improve their achievements in diversity and show how they are doing it.
Lead from the top
An organization cannot become inclusive if leaders at all levels are apathetic, negative or openly contemptuous of diversity initiatives. Rolled eyes at the mention of diversity are more damaging than just ignoring it entirely.
The executive team must:
- Be representative of the diversity you hope to achieve
- Actively participate in events
- Be held publicly to account for achievements in diversity
- Be vocal in championing diversity
- Become mentors and sponsors of achievers in order to increase diversity at a senior level
The average future employee will be female, Asian and in her early 50’s. Diversity is not about giving a helping hand to deserving tokens –inclusion will happen by evolution eventually, so it’s better to get on the train, rather than be run over by it. The future of work is going to be diverse because it makes business sense and moral sense, but diversity also matters because it is already a reality.