We need to rethink inclusion

We've made progress when it comes to improving diversity, but the UK's approach to inclusion shows that it just isn't working.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 16 Oct 2018

It’s a sunny Friday morning and just under 30 of us have come together in a meeting room at the London office of global advertising technology firm AppNexus. We’ve not come to talk tech, trade or television commercials - we’ve come to ‘hack’ inclusion.

It’s an interactive workshop hosted by Tokenman and Utopia co-founder Daniele Fiandaca. Using a mixture of creative videos, Post-it notes and Sharpies, participants are asked to think deeply about what inclusion actually means and more importantly, how business can benefit by creating a more inclusive culture.

By the end of the 90 minute session we had a list of eight key barriers to inclusion. The usual suspects of unconscious bias, time and investment were accompanied by privilege, lack of diverse talent, fear and the 'in group’s resistance to change'.

It threw up some obvious, relatively simple solutions that hadn’t occurred to me before and I certainly started to think about inclusion differently - but there’s a problem.

The people who attend sessions like this haven't come for the free croissants. They’ve come because they already acknowledge the need to change the way they think and because of a vested interest in making the workplace as inclusive as possible. In essence, these aren't the people who need their minds changing. 

It's a wider issue: those who have the power to make the change are still not engaging sufficiently in the debate. At least three of the five people I spoke with at the hack were there on behalf of their CEO; sent along to take it in and feedback their experience.

Of course, there are many senior business leaders for whom diversity and inclusive workplaces are extremely important. But the evidence shows that it is just not working.

The McGregor Smith review into race in the workplace found that despite there not being a lack of talent within the BAME employment pool, just one in 16 senior management positions is held by a person from a minority background. Just 74 of the 100 FTSE companies asked to provide data to the survey chose to respond.

McKinsey’s 2017 Women in the Workplace study highlights that we’ve become too comfortable with the status quo - almost 50% of the men from the 222 companies and 70,000 employees surveyed think that having one women in ten senior positions was sufficient - more alarming one third of women sampled agreed.

Add this to the fact that 1,500 firms missed the deadline to publish their gender pay information and that the disability employment gap (difference between the employment rate of non-disabled people and disabled people) has remained largely unchanged at 30% for nearly three decades, and it's clear something isn’t working.

One of the problems is that inclusion can be hard to define. Essentially, it is an attitude and a practice of involving everybody in the conversation. That doesn't just mean women, people with disabilities and those minority backgrounds, but people from all social, religious and neurological backgrounds.

In general terms, it can sound wishy washy, an exhortation to listen to everybody and be a nice person while you're at it. It is only really when it's broken down to the details - of what it actually looks like when people are excluded and why people exclude them - that you see why it is such an important issue and start thinking how it can be addressed.

It cannot be improved by simply focusing on one area of diversity on a box-tick basis, but by changing culture and challenging leadership. 

This last point is crucial. It’s far too easy to make it someone else’s responsibility or pronounce vague platitudes that your organisation is fighting hard to improve the talent pipeline of women. If genuine change is going to happen, it is only going to come from the top and if many of those at the top don’t participate directly in the conversations, what is the point?

Fundamentally, inclusion helps businesses make better decisions. Data gathered by Cloverpop shows that businesses with the highest levels of age, gender and regional diversity are 87% more likely to make better decisions.

As British businesses move closer to the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit, one thing is certain: there will be plenty of critical decisions to be made. Without true inclusivity - and therefore diversity - you increase your risks of making a bad one.


Want to share your thoughts?

We're keen to hear what you think about this. Please do get in touch on stephen.jones@haymarket.com or find me on Twitter @SPJ1064


Image credit: AlxeyPnferov/Gettyimages

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