If you’ve been attracted to this discussion piece because you’re hoping for someone to make the business case for equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, then you’re on the wrong page, literally and metaphorically.
We’ll gladly point people towards papers linked to studies that prove the financial benefits. These range from greater employee engagement through to better decision making, more innovation, happier customers and, quite frankly, respecting the law. But we’re long past the business case stage and hope you are too.
Interestingly, most of the business case pieces were written at least a decade ago. If you really still need a business case to embrace the concept of celebrating difference while creating a culture of inclusion in pursuit of your organisation’s goals, then you may be the wrong person for the job as the ED&I conversation has moved on from “what, who and why?” to “when and how?”. It really has.
Like my consulting colleagues at Mosaic, I’ve had the pleasure of working nationally and internationally in some very varied and diverse environments, helping develop work cultures within corporate and national cultural frameworks that have been challenging. Bringing change to countries like South Africa and Northern Ireland or implementing values-led leadership in global corporations that touch upon every major geography and which need to be personalised for local employee demographics, isn’t easy. Yet when inclusion is the focus while simultaneously celebrating the diversity of identities, skills, thinking styles and personal journeys that contribute towards that change, it can be an exhilarating challenge. And isn’t that what work should be?
Even when working in one of the ED&I epi-centres of global renown, Brighton, there are still lessons to be learned.
Just before the pandemic struck, I was helping a public sector organisation develop a future fit working culture and, in the process, continuously improve their employee engagement to become an employer brand of choice in a territory where they had an image challenge.
They had enabled the development of over a dozen special interest groups representing the spectrum of what they believed was their core ED&I demographic ranging from BAME through to the Proud Network.
Each group was clearly committed to the needs and interests of their core members and had an Executive lead. But as there was a limited budget for engagement activities, incongruence was never far from the surface and progress generally was a struggle at times.
I was able to help in a number of ways. Useful contributions included:
- holding listening sessions with them all and obtaining feedback from the 70% or so colleagues who weren’t members of any society or group
- providing all groups with a common platform at the annual, very high-profile colleague conference
- ensuring that the top team understood the business case for inclusion using a blend of bespoke data and several talks by prominent lawyers and accountants who had undertaken ED&I transformation journeys and were now advocates
The listening groups demonstrated, very clearly, that diversity wasn’t the challenge. The organisation’s recruitment process had ensured that they were meeting their quantitative demographic goals. Their greatest challenge was retention and inclusion. In short, once they managed to attract a great blend of talented people, they were struggling to keep them and the focus on “difference” was alienating, in some part, rather than unifying.
Having gained senior team endorsement for the conference agenda and the license to innovate, the catalyst of an empty stage for an hour with a collective ED&I banner above it proved to be the challenge needed to unite the groups. A couple of facilitators stood out as natural, inclusive leaders and between us we were able to devise an engaging and inclusive experiential workshop called In My Shoes.
The premise of the exercise was to capture a typical day in the life of someone with protected characteristics or a typical member of a special interest group and to illustrate the challenges they face. These were turned into immersive scripts and then the scripts were exchanged with members from another group who gave some form of performance to bring that day to life. These ranged from reciting poems through to role plays and silent monologues.
The content of the exercises was carefully guarded until the day of the conference and conference delegates got to self-select what breakout workshop sessions they would like to attend based upon the teaser communication provided by the group.
I had to manage a great deal of nervousness within the senior team and HR function, concerned by what promised to be a controversial session. This was on top of the usual performance anxiety of the workshop leads and the night before included tears and tantrums. However, when the bookings opened, it was the first session to sell out.
The conference was as stressful as these totemic events always are, and I had to wear many hats on the day. But I took time out to pop into the ED&I workshop and it was captivating.
The audience was truly inclusive and the performances were both touching and educating. The conference itself was a triumph, but the workshop breakout is the first time I’ve witnessed a session gain universal acclaim, with all respondents giving it maximum satisfaction and education scores.
At Mosaic, as you may well know, we pride ourselves on creating tailored, immersive and transformational strategies and leadership interventions that deliver sustainable results. This modest illustration hopefully shows why we’re so beyond the business case and why ED&I especially is a concept that means nothing unless fine words are matched by finer deeds.
When that balance is reached, magic happens. And when the intervention is part of an OD system where the components complement one another, then it’s the sweet spot. But as with all people initiatives, it takes a lot of hard partnership work and experience to reach that point
This is our 11th blog in this year’s series. Until next time, if you would like a conversation with one of our diverse leadership team about your own ED&I challenges, then we’d love to hear from you.
Best, as ever.
PS. If you would like more case studies like this then you can download specific chapters from Ian’s books by following this link.