Is it about ticking boxes? Meeting quotas? Creating a refined position that makes us more appealing to a smarter, more tuned in audience? Are we dealing with the same challenges that face us societally, or is diversity and inclusion different when it comes to applying it to business?
Here are some key points to consider:
Businesses are cultures in and of themselves
They are ecosystems. They are microcosms of society, so they have similar variables at play as society at large, but differ in some ways. They are “controlled and policed”, by an integral and explicit code of conduct overlaid on top of our cultural code.
Whilst this can result in ingrained behaviours, expectations and ways of doing things, it can also offer a more manageable framework , as well as more opportunities to inspire, rather than dictate or direct.
There is more to diversity than meets the eye
It’s easy to lock on to the more obvious aspects of diversity and inclusion and overlook other areas such as mental health and age.
When businesses start to formulate an idea, or an ambition, and develop it into a plan
It’s all too easy to take a “top down” approach and hope that having senior executive sponsorship and a rallying cry that resonates with the investment board will provide the right balance of drive and advocacy. However, experience shows that such initiatives aren’t effective.
In fact, empowering and encouraging employee-based initiatives (ERGs) has a greater cumulative effect, enabling organisations to be agile, test, learn, fail and go again without derailing the overall direction.
This is about democratising diversity and inclusion and we will see a lot more of this as a way to drive change in the future.
Don’t put PR before purpose
As an extension of the point above, just as top down initiatives aren’t always the right way to go, businesses and brands need to tread carefully in terms of externalising or championing commitments and initiatives. Because, more than anywhere else, this is where they can come unwittingly unstuck.
The worse thing any business can do, is nothing
It sounds obvious, but change must start somewhere. Businesses should consider reputation, alongside compliance and regulation and the tendency in mitigating risk or getting wrong can result in stasis. The fact is, no-one is getting it all exactly right. Businesses are still learning how to tackle all this, and that means getting it wrong and being open to share and learn from our failures. But do something.
Right now, the focus is (and should be) on diversity, effectively on difference: that difference is good; and that being open and confident about acknowledging and embracing difference in our organisations enables us to create better businesses and internal cultures.
However, whilst we’re focused on diversity and getting our heads, hands and hearts around it, we mustn’t overlook inclusion and what that means. Inclusion is a desired state and results in brand advocacy. Because it enables us to create brands that have more context and relevance – and are better equipped to develop value propositions, products and services designed for the future.
No business should rest on its laurels, praising itself for its (albeit significant) achievements so far. The ones that are driving change are the ones that operate with humility and self-awareness. Ones which understand that change is a constant, and that we only improve and evolve by constantly trying new things and not always getting it right.
Until we create a culture and society which naturally embraces the benefit of diversity, there will never be ultimate results or metrics. What we should focus on is starting to shift the dial through initiatives, projects and programmes that drive consistent, palpable action that changes culture. For good.
Stuart Andrews is senior planner at bigdog
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