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by GK Strategy 22nd January, 2018

Diversity in 2018 – Some Do’s and Don’ts to be credible and effective on diversity

The diversity landscape has been transformed as much as the UK political landscape in the last 12 months.

The Google ‘echo chamber’ controversy; the Weinstein, Spacey, too-many-to-mention allegations in Hollywood and Westminster; the BBC unequal pay scandal; and #MeToo have brought issues of unacceptable workplace practices and behaviour to the fore, and one knock-on effect has been an increased focus on diversity.

Many of your colleagues, customers, investors and other stakeholders would be justified in asking how your organisation’s diversity agenda has changed or will be changing. So here are some tips as to how you might want to pursue diversity credibly and effectively:

  • DO think about diversity in its broadest sense. It’s no longer just about levels of workforce representation, seniority and retention. It is now about diversity of thought and action, and whether your organisation allows all its people to thrive and to speak up
  • DO think about what diversity means for your organisation– how you define it, why it’s important, and how best you can achieve your vision of diversity. Too many organisations’ communications on diversity look bland and generic, which can appear insincere and uninformed. What diversity might mean in healthcare is probably going to be very different from what it might mean in financial services. GK’s approach is to follow a very different path to most traditional communications consultancies in who we recruit and how we work. We believe it makes us more creative, independent and willing to challenge orthodoxy. The issue won’t be owned by everyone if the conversation is restricted only to groups perceived to be marginalised by existing practices.
  • DO take an evidence-based approach. Early attempts to promote diversity were, somewhat justifiably, seen as risk mitigation and remedial exercises. A Harvard Business Review analysis of the evidence concluded that many of these efforts were ineffective and often counterproductive. Instead, it recommended the application of three basic principles: engaging managers in solving problems (e.g. through mentoring and recruitment programmes); increasing contact between different groups (e.g. through cross-function teams, as specialisms often divide along gender and ethnic lines); and encouraging accountability (e.g. with CEO-led task forces that hold departments to account for their progress on diversity.)
  • DO recognise that diversity has disruptive power. Many organisations want to be seen as market disruptors, innovators or as capable of adapting quickly in disruptive environments. Diversity of representation and thought can help fuel that disruptive agenda. Diversity is a challenge to homogeneity. Well-established homogeneity in any organisation – or indeed in any business sector, economy or culture – typically results in ossification, resistance to change and ultimately decline. As Blackrock CEO Larry Fink put it in his 2018 annual letter to CEOs, “Boards with a diverse mix of genders, ethnicities, career experiences, and ways of thinking have, as a result, a more diverse and aware mindset. They are less likely to succumb to groupthink or miss new threats to a company’s business model.
  • DO recognise that indirect routes to diversity might be more effective than direct ones. It’s important not to approach diversity in terms of meeting group-specific needs, such as same-sex partner employee benefits or maternity leave. It often misses the (much bigger) point. Long and inflexible hours are often a huge barrier to diversity and advancement. Changing that would benefit everyone. At GK, our staff can take two hours off each week, and we have a flexible approach to working hours and working from home. It’s a boon for anyone (like me) who wants to go to school events regularly. But it’s not badged or understood as a ‘family-friendly’ policy and is all the better for it.
  • DON’T employ bullies. If the goal is – as it should be – to create workplaces in which everyone can thrive, then a good rule is never to employ or promote those who threaten this environment. Robert Sutton, author of the best-selling No Asshole Rule, identified unacceptable behaviour as that which makes others feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves after an encounter. Such people are likely to be rude and insensitive at best and, given even a little authority, more likely to bully and harass.
  • DO encourage open debate on diversity – and on other controversial topics. Google sacked James Damore for questioning the effectiveness of their approach to diversity. He identified the paradox that the diversity agenda in many organisations doesn’t welcome diversity of opinion, despite citing greater cognitive diversity as a business rationale. Damore pointed out that Google, like many other organisations, has an ‘ideological echo chamber’. In politics as well as business, echo chambers might help build a sense of cohesion and solidarity in the short term but they prevent progress in the medium to long-term.

It’s all too tempting for an advisor, colleague or party member to maintain the echo chamber, but if you and your organisation truly value integrity, diversity and independence of thought, then genuinely open debate – and tolerance of difference of opinion – on diversity and other issues is essential.

For more information on how GK can help your business create and implement outstanding ESG and diversity practices, contact martin@gkstrategy.com

To find out more about how onefourzero’s digital due diligence and insights can help you identify opportunities for growth and potential risks, click here or contact fleur@onefourzerogroup.com

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