Thursday, 24 August 2017

Innovation Blog: Why middle management need to get on board with diversity

In this blog, Novae chief executive Matthew Fosh discusses why diversity is still struggling to take off, and what he thinks needs to be done to help promote it

At the start of the year, Harvard Business Review published an article with the attention grabbing headline, ‘Diversity Policies Rarely Make Companies Fairer, and They Feel Threatening to White Men’. The headline writer did a good job because I felt compelled to read on.

As a white man of a certain age, I can be classified (legitimately, if a bit unkindly) as ‘one of the turkeys being asked to vote for Christmas’ in the view of Diversity & Inclusion cynics.

And what was a well-respected and forward thinking publication of the calibre of HBR thinking!? Surely part of its mandate is to open the minds of managers to progressive business strategies?

In the research experiment on which the article’s argument rests, the authors arranged to have the job interview performance of white men assessed in situations where they were told that the company they were hoping to join had a diversity policy.

The researchers found that, once told of a policy, the candidates’ confidence and interview performance suffered.

As a member of the Inclusion@Lloyd’s group, (which guides diversity & inclusion strategy for the Lloyd’s market) I found this fascinating.

There’s no doubt that the message that diversity & inclusion is good for business hasn’t yet been universally embraced by many busy managers who feel it isn’t a priority for them - but to imagine that the mere presence of a policy would be unnerving to some people surely demonstrates that there is a right way and a wrong way to talk about diversity & inclusion.

What we have to focus on according to the HBR article is nuanced communication. The benefits of working in an organisation that embraces diversity & inclusion extend well beyond the insight and innovation of a workforce comprised of people with different backgrounds, cultures and experiences - it’s certainly not about tokenistic hires.

What’s in it for all of us is that fostering an inclusive workplace culture means that everyone is treated as they deserve to be treated.

In our efforts to communicate the business case for diversity & inclusion, we mustn’t let innovation and productivity obscure the simple and powerful message that people will be loyal to businesses where the workplace culture values everyone on the same basis.

The bottom line conclusion of the article is that in order to foster fair and inclusive workplaces, ‘Diversity initiatives must incorporate accountability’. Fostering cultures where poor diversity & inclusion practice is not tolerated can be championed from the top by enlightened CEOs, but it is the middle layer of management who really need to get on board for things to change.

Unless they understand what’s in it for them, diversity & inclusion will stay a separate ‘thing’ we have to campaign about instead of it being just part of the way we all do business.

Matthew Fosh is CEO at Novae and sits on the Inclusion@Lloyd’s Group.

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