What exactly is diversity and why is it so important?

There are so many arguments for increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace, including emotional, spiritual and financial reasons we should embrace a more pluralistic workforce. And yet we still have more men running businesses than women (with a disproportionate number of them being named John or Peter), we still have a gender pay gap, and executive teams are still overwhelming made up of people from white Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, none of which reflects the make-up of our society or the wider world.

We know that the more diverse an organisation, the more profitable, innovative and sustainable it is. And yet too often we fail to put this knowledge into practice.

Unfortunately, one recent study (Why white men don’t get involved in diversity and inclusion) showed that, although 90% of those interviewed thought that diversity and inclusion (D&I) was important, only 56% claimed to be actively involved in promoting any sort of D&I activity. The most common reason for not promoting and supporting D&I given by the men interviewed was, ‘It doesn’t benefit me.’ The second most common reason was, ‘I’m too busy’. Sadly, there is often no incentive for those who benefit from the status quo to ask such questions as, ‘What am I gaining by keeping this situation going?’ or ‘How is my inaction affecting those around me and the organisation as a whole?’ Unfortunately, the more D&I is promoted and the status quo is challenged, the greater the perceived negative impact on the majority and those in power.

A few years ago, I saw this phenomenon in action. I had a male friend call me for a catch-up and I asked him how he was. ‘I would be a lot better if it wasn’t for people like you!’ he told me. I was taken aback and asked what he was referring to. He told me ‘I’ve been applying for a number of board appointments and when I’m up against a woman, they always get the job.’

What was interesting to me is that this man has two daughters and over the years he has shared a lot with me about his ‘progressive’ beliefs and his support of women, and about how disappointed he has been with the inaction of his male peers. Yet, when it came down to it, he wanted someone else to pay the price for diversity and not him. My comment back was: ‘Well, couldn’t you take the place of one of the other nine men on the board rather than replacing the one woman?’

This tendency to talk the talk while being reluctant to walk the walk is a common issue when it comes to social change. Time and again research shows that we want to buy Australian-made products, for example, but our choices at the checkout show that in fact we are buying the cheaper imported versions. We believe in helping the homeless, but in other suburbs rather than in our own.

Inclusivity in terms of gender is, of course, just one small part of the diversity equation. Diversity obviously also encompasses variation in nationality, religious beliefs, thinking styles, work experience and even geography. But if we cannot get one of the more straightforward examples of inclusion right, given that women make up 49.6% of the population, it’s no wonder we struggle to address some of the more complex ways in which diversity should be embraced.

At Peeplcoach we approach diversity from three viewpoints:

  • that of the marginalised
  • that of the gatekeeper (or decision-maker)
  • that of the organisation.

(It’s important to note, of course, that these three viewpoints are not always separate and distinct.) Additionally, to truly embed change, structural and legislative support is essential.

Our focus should be on what we can control. The reality is that we can only control ourselves as individuals, ourselves as leaders and and ourselves as team members and influencers within an organisation.

As you reflect on what is going on in the world today, including movements such as #metoo, #blacklivesmatter and the fight for marriage equality, as well those that came before us, such as the suffragette movement and the Civil Rights Movement, ask yourself:

  • What would be the cost to you if your organisation made efforts to be more diverse and inclusive?
  • What would be the benefit to you if your organisation made efforts to be more diverse and inclusive?
  • What are you doing to impede diversity?
  • What are you doing to accelerate diversity?
  • What can you do today to make your business a more inclusive, diverse and profitable place to work?

Then do something!