How to create inclusion from diversity?

We are often asked to help HR Directors and Heads of Diversity to create what they call the “burning platform” so that their Senior Teams and Boards can see the value in creating an inclusive environment within their organisations.  As a strategist, this continues to baffle me.  Like all good strategies, once set in place it should always be tested against the organisations internal capability to deliver what it’s claiming it can do.  Clearly, this has to be done in a very robust way – and this has to involve a very frank observation about whether the talent at all levels in the organisation is capable of delivering that strategy.

This is where creating the burning platform should come in.  Unless an organisation is looking to continue to service exactly the same market and can totally guarantee that what they are doing today will work tomorrow and that their client base won’t change, then it is highly likely that frank conversations need to be had around whether for example, the predominantly “white middle class male board” is going to be capable of foreseeing the changes that may be coming towards them.

A recent example of this is around disruptive technology and the effect that this can have on an organisation’s strategy.  Looking at technology and how the very essence of the way that you do business today could change with the rise of the sun tomorrow – and is therefore no longer enough.

We need to expand the concept that the strategy that we have may need to alter radically, one would think that following the most disruptive global economic situation that we have seen in 100 years would have taught us this lesson already. Boards across the globe need to prioritise the fact that disruptive economies and technologies drive us even closer to an urgent situation of needing to create an inclusive environment.

Organisations can achieve this by first examining what we mean by the term inclusive environment.  Put quite simply, it is creating a space where individuals within the organisation can be everything that they are.  They can bring their talent, their brains and the very essence of what makes them individuals in the work place.  However, this has to start, not with a simple order from the Board, or a simple programme designed from the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.  To understand how they can create that space, they first have to understand what it is within them that actually prevents that space from developing naturally.  Asking leaders to look deep within themselves at their own hidden fears, their own biases and the assumptions they make, and to test them practically against the current talent they have in place versus the longer term business strategy. This is the first step on the line to understanding how business critical it is to drive inclusion as a strategic imperative.

For many years, we have looked specifically to create diversity in organisations, to hit targets, to put the right symbol in the tick box that says we are “moving the dial” in terms of race and in terms of gender. I have not always been convinced that everyone understands the bigger picture of exactly why they are doing this, and I am often surprised that this is still the case.

Unless we can have Boards and Senior Teams in organisations who really understand the impact that disruptive economies and technology can have and the reality that no matter how well executed their current strategy, it is unlikely that as technology comes down the line it won’t alter the way that they take their business to the market place.  They will not have the kind of creativity, intellect and brain power in the areas that they need to drive their business forwards unless they have created an inclusive environment.

 

Angela Peacock is the CEO of global inclusion specialists the People Development Team.