It’s time we change the way we talk about diversity
Even though we’ve been talking about diversity for years, there’s been little shift in attitudes and numbers. Is diversity as ’ethics’ the right thing to focus on — or is it widening the divide?
I’ve been in a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion (D&I) recently. I’m planning the first diversity in tech conference in the North West of England (more about that later) and so I’ve been speaking to business owners, hiring managers, recruitment and education professionals and lots of people that work in tech. The subject of diversity as ‘ethics’ or ‘the right thing to do’ keeps cropping up.
Diversity as ‘ethics’ is weak
The trouble with the diversity as ethics argument is that although it sets out to do the right thing, it can actually be counterproductive and harmful.
The argument sets the wrong expectation, can alienate existing team members and frequently plays into the hands of stereotypes. When a person from an underrepresented group is hired because of ethics, the incumbent staff can often discount the new person’s contribution — as there is an underlying belief that they have received preferential treatment and perhaps, doesn’t actually deserve to be on the team. This can, at best, result in resentment and leave the newcomer feeling unwelcome, impacting their productivity, and at worse, foster alienation — causing them to underperform. This further reinforces stereotypes and produces even more resentment, until eventually, the newcomer leaves.
Yet I’ve found diversity as ethics is an argument frequently used, even by fervent D&I advocates.
More of the same
Last week, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy published a report on executive board diversity within the FTSE 350. Of these 350 top UK companies, 292 have no women executive directors and 5 have 2 or more.
Reasons for the lack of diversity…
“We have one woman already on the board, so we are done — it is someone else’s turn”
“There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board — the issues covered are extremely complex”
“My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”
Even though we’ve been talking about diversity for years, overall there has been little shift in neither attitudes nor numbers. It’s clear from the comments that the top organisations view diversity as ethics — and they’re not buying it. Making the shift to a diverse and inclusive organisation is difficult. When only highlighting the ethics of diversity — is it even worth it?
We’ve been focussing on the wrong thing
It’s time to change the narrative. It is more compelling (and accurate) for all concerned to refocus the case for D&I from ethics to profitability, productivity and innovation.
Diverse groups are more innovative, as interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, anticipate alternative viewpoints, and expect that reaching consensus will take effort, making everyone on the team — and often the overall organisation, better.
In short, diversity is strength. Not due to some misplaced idea of charity — nor the notion that you have to sacrifice profitability to give something back. Diversity and inclusion IS the innovation, the productivity, the profitability that companies need in order to future proof themselves, flourish and grow.
Can we really afford not to?
According to McKinsey: “There is a penalty for opting out. The penalty for bottom-quartile performance on diversity persists. Overall, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability than were all other companies in our data set. In short, not only were they not leading, they were lagging.”
I’ll leave that right there.
Don’t just talk -– do…
I attended the Tech Inclusion Conference in London last December. It was an amazing experience and at the end, everyone was challenged to act on championing diversity and inclusion moving forward. I made the commitment to speak up and amplify.
So, in the spirit of my commitment… Passionate about helping businesses and underrepresented communities in the north to flourish, and with a distinct lack of larger D&I tech events in the region, I’ve pulled together an amazing team to help launch the first conference focusing on diversity and inclusion in tech in the NW.
Diverse & Equal Tech Conference NW — 3–4 October, Manchester
The 2 day conference is bringing together global industry D&I advocates, the region’s leading digital businesses and some of the NWs most effective grassroots organisations, to discuss the benefits of diversity and inclusion in tech and ACTION next steps to improve.
We’re currently looking for sponsors and speakers, drop me an email if you’re interested in getting involved. More details to follow soon.