Are we listening to the right voices?

Friday 9th June — Blueprint discusses the improved diversity of voices gradually appearing in UK business and politics

Diversity and inclusion is a topic which is increasingly mentioned within the world of business. In recent years, several businesses have adopted quotas in an attempt to get more women and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic group) candidates on boards and in senior management positions. Whilst this method can be effective, quotas can also become a simple ‘tick box’ exercise which result in a small change in behaviour, rather than a sustained mindset shift.

Many people define ‘diversity’ as a mix of race, gender, sexuality and age. Most of us determine ‘inclusion’ as involving people of lower ability, lesser income or unprivileged backgrounds. A Blueprint for Better Business however, believes that ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ should not purely be about mixing up a group of people based on their physical attributes, but should instead be about bringing together a wide range of views, opinions and voices.

As an example, the photo below shows a (relatively) aesthetically diverse bunch of people. What you can’t see behind the physical features, however, is that all of them went to Oxford University. Now, whilst on paper, it looks as though this group might bring different perspectives and opinions to a debate, they may actually have a low diversity of thought and think in broadly the same way.

Courtesy of Oxford University Alumni Group

Diversity and inclusion should not be a token gesture for the front of company brochures, it needs to be about genuinely listening to the people that the company and board represent. The only way to do that, is to open up conversation to people from every corner and every circumstance: managers with MBAs, manual workers who left school at 16, immigrants who struggled to gain a work visa, mothers who want to work full-time, indigenous communities who live within the supply chain… customers, suppliers, interest groups and shareholders. All voices are valid and valuable, and all should have a seat at the table.

Encouragingly, it is not just business which is seeking to diversify the people in power and the voices in the room. This morning, a record breaking 200 female MPs were elected to the House of Commons: more women than have ever been elected before. The first female Sikh MP, Preet Kaur Gill, was elected: along with Marsha de Cordova, who is female, black and disabled.

The incumbent parliament now has a more diverse mix of people in the traditional, physical sense. A hung parliament though, means that more voices will need to be taken into account too. Whilst this will be hard, frustrating and will probably slow the decision-making process down significantly: there is also the potential to achieve outcomes which more accurately represent the people whom parliament seeks to serve (i.e. the British public).

Blueprint is heartened by the progress made in recent times in the diversity agenda but recognises that there is still quite some way to go. We believe that if they are to be successful, our governments and businesses must seek to genuinely serve our society. In order to do so, they must allow people from every corner to be included and represented, and they must allow every voice to be heard.

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