Chapter 6: Purposeful Action and Positive Returns Enhance Business Values | The Diversity Playbook

"Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Verna Myers

The spirit of inclusion is about action. The welcome words and the data-gathering agenda are essential first steps. The expert choreography is in the strategy you create, the roadmap you put in place and the engagement across the whole business. This chapter will explore the most robust inclusion and diversity initiatives based on the latest academic research. Successful delivery of an inclusion and diversity strategy across your whole business will yield positive returns. It will allow you to capture the enormous business value of untapped potential, talent, productivity and innovation internally and the new consumers, products and markets externally. It will also ensure that you continue to have a social licence to operate in a fast-changing and sustainably-minded world. In this world, it is imperative for all businesses to have a purpose, as well as a profit.

Shared Purpose  

Looking at inclusion and diversity through a commercial lens is a huge, but relatively nascent, opportunity for organisations to differentiate their business and demonstrate their purpose. This commercial lens is about recognising how you can reach more talent and more customers, which in turn adds more value and delivers better returns for your business and its community. When you conduct this exercise as a business, you are identifying and claiming the ‘missing millions’ that other companies have ignored.  Although every part of your business should be considered through an inclusion and diversity lens, it does not necessarily mean the areas you will prioritise will feature every aspect of your business.  

For example, after analysing your business through an inclusion and diversity lens, you may decide the greatest impact is in the talent you are attracting, retaining and promoting versus the customers and clients that you work with, or the partners in your supply chain or your service providers. However, often, you will find that business areas link together. For example, diverse talent is often seeking organisations that have a more representative customer and client base. To have the greatest impact commercially and socially, it is important to focus on where you will add the most value.  

A Focused Approach 

In 2020, Diageo, the global drinks company, decided to add inclusion and diversity as a core strategic focus of their business. Building on the sustainability-focused commitments of the previous decade in the areas of responsible drinking and environmental impact, they added targets for inclusion and diversity. The additional focus was a result of applying an inclusion and diversity lens to their entire business. This highlighted their dependence on ‘recruiting, retaining and developing diverse talent with a range of backgrounds, skills and capabilities’ across the 180 countries where they operate.  In addition, they recognised that ‘diversity of thought and experience fuels growth and innovation’ and brings them ‘closer to the consumer base’. 

The work that Diageo has completed around gender equality has resulted in the top global ranking by diversity data company Equileap. In 2020, 39 percent of their leadership roles and 55 per cent of their board positions were held by women. Their target for 2030 is to achieve gender balance in leadership roles and to have 45 per cent ethnically diverse leadership. 

Unconscious Bias (UB) Training 

One of the strategies that many companies have adopted to address the problem of a lack of diversity is UB training. The time, money,  and effort put into UB training by companies globally is estimated to be around $8bn a year.42 In 2018, Starbucks famously closed 8,000  of its stores to conduct UB training after an incident in which an employee called the police on two potential black customers. Facebook has demonstrated their commitment to tackling unconscious bias over multiple years and has published its training material online.

Underlying Beliefs 

However, the issue with all the focus on UB training is that it is a  radical oversimplification of the challenge. Social psychology recognises many types of bias including the things we would do openly if it weren’t for the social ramifications, feelings we are aware of but ashamed to admit, information we consciously believe due to genuine ignorance, and beliefs we justify on cultural or other grounds. These concepts have many names – aversive racism,  symbolic racism, even colour-blind racism.44 Sexism is similarly complex covering a number of different concepts like hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.45 The idea that all, or even most prejudice today is entirely unconscious is simply not true. Unconscious bias is an important piece of the puzzle, but it is not the only one. 

Diversity Training 

The other difficulty with an exclusive focus on UB training is that it doesn’t lead to more diverse teams. In the US, Professors Dobbin and Kalev (2016) researched more than 800 companies to see how different diversity programmes affected the proportions of ethnic minorities and women in management. Surprisingly, they found  that mandatory diversity training made these companies less diverse, not more diverse, in their management structures. Similarly,  Bezrukova and colleagues (2016) looked at 260 studies on diversity training, spanning the last 40 years of research on the subject. They found ‘no compelling evidence that long-term effects of diversity training are sustainable’. This isn’t to say that unconscious bias training serves no purpose at all. It is useful for raising awareness of bias and for giving people the tools to start discussing bias. But the evidence is very clear; unconscious bias training, by itself,  will not make your company any more diverse or inclusive.

“Increasing engagement gives employees a stake in the company’s purpose, promoting professional and personal growth that reduces staff turnover. Diversity and inclusion can only be improved when a number of targeted strategies are applied together.” 

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