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Don’t chase diversity and inclusion perfection, just get started

Diversity and inclusion strategy
Creating a diverse workforce and then bringing them together in creative ways can be transformative for businesses of all sizes

Far from being a box-ticking exercise, subject matter expert Peter Ryding believes there are core business benefits that come from embracing diversity and inclusion.

As part of the growing amount of diversity and inclusion conversation in the last few years, it will have become fairly clear that the diversity part of the equation is all about building a workforce that includes people of all ages, races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, abilities and social backgrounds.

What is sometimes harder to put a finger on is the inclusion part. Quite simply, if diversity is concerned with numbers (how many people of different ethnicities, for example, do you have in your business), inclusion means how well these people are truly welcomed into the fold and made to feel completely equal to the rest of the team.

“Inclusivity involves questions like, ‘Do our corporate values have subtle discrimination embedded within them and unconscious bias – or are we overtly saying that we relish and embrace, racial, gender and every other type of diversity?” said Peter Ryding, an SME owner who not only embraces diversity and inclusion in his own business, VIC (VicyourCoach.com), but also advises other businesses on the subject regularly. “The terms do overlap, and some people use them interchangeably,” he said, “but I see them as significantly different.”

Growing importance

Diversity and inclusion has exploded in importance thanks in part to a greater acceptance around the world of different races, abilities and lifestyles – though few would disagree that we still have a long way to go. Peter believes that recent Black Lives Matter events and activities have helped to elevate the importance of the topic, and said that he passionately believes it is something boards of all business sizes should consciously address.

“It’s not a tick-box exercise,” he emphasised. “That would be missing the point. As well as fundamentally being the right thing to do, there are core business benefits that come with embracing diversity.”

One particular example he cited was asking a Vietnamese colleague to design a web form where people would see a tick in a box. When he got the work back and was presented with an image of a flea-like tick in a wooden crate, he realised that confusion over language was most likely causing other issues with the Vietnamese side of his business.

“If your customers are diverse, it’s essential that your workforce is diverse to reflect that,” he said.

Studies have shown that diverse workforces are more engaged and can boost productivity. A wider-pool of interests and backgrounds also means that there will always be more ideas to work with, too.

“If you look at a marriage,” Peter added, “it’s been shown that people with similar tastes tend to get on very easily, but when things go wrong, they struggle to resolve things. Couples who are very different have a wider skill set that enables them to survive the inevitable issues that happen in life.”

Similarly, he said, a workforce that has a wealth of diverse backgrounds and experiences – and feels included – will enable a company to be more resilient. “One time in a virtual team meeting we were talking about what we could learn from religious ceremonies,” he remembered. “Talk immediately turned to Easter and Christmas – and then someone from our Indian team said, ‘We have hundreds of Gods. And let me tell you about the Festival of Lights’.”

As a result, the team came up with some new ideas that they would never have thought of if Christian ceremonies had been their only reference point.

Define your approach

Before a business makes the decision to up its diversity and inclusion efforts, Peter said it’s important that management first work out why they are doing it. If it’s simply because everyone else is, then it may still be worth doing because it may show leaders how out of touch they are. However, it’s far better, Peter urged, to come to the realisation that this is irrefutably the right way to go – and then identify what the specific benefits to the business will be.

“Then,” he said, “when other pressures come along to distract you from pushing your diversity and inclusion strategy forward, someone will say, ‘Hang on – we identified and wrote down the business benefits, so let’s not let it slide’.”

Part of the initial process, he said, will be to unravel any unconscious biases that exist within the team. “You need to overcome what you think ‘a gay man’ looks like or what you think a black person does differently to a white person.

“Look also at where you recruit from – if it’s always Oxford or Cambridge, then you’re not likely to be getting lots of candidates from low-income backgrounds.”

Finally, if you’re worried about making a hash of it all and think that doing nothing is your safest form of action, Peter advised that it’s better to give it a go imperfectly than not to try at all. “If you need to go and get advice, then do so, but don’t let anything stop you from proceeding.”

His suggestion for other small and medium-sized businesses is simple. “This is one of the mega issues that businesses need to address, and all we’re doing, really, is recognising that most companies who haven’t done this yet are probably not as diverse and inclusive as they could and should be. And they will be a better business by doing it.”

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