In the English language ‘Value’ is both a noun and a verb. We use it to denote the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. We use the word value a lot in business. but we tend to put more emphasis on the verb rather than the noun. We use it to estimate the monetary worth of something. When I work with organisations on D&I projects one of the first barriers I face is a lack of buy in from the top because they start by wanting to know the business case for D&I in other words ‘how much is D&I worth to my bottom line’?
There is a wealth of research out there that demonstrates how organisations with gender balanced boards out perform those with homogenous representation around the table. Or how organisations with a diverse and inclusive culture attract the best talent. Or how customers and clients are choosing to engage or not with organisations based on their D&I initiatives. I can show you the research that supports the business case of creating a diverse and inclusive organisation but I’m not going to, because I’m not interested in the monetary worth of D&I, I’m interested in the human value. I’m not a quantitative person, numbers don’t work for me. Numbers won’t change a culture. Numbers take you down the tick box route of counting difference as opposed to understanding it. If you have to count the number of black employees, or women in your organisation your organisation is not diverse. However I am not naive. Alongside my PhD I have an MBA, I understand how business works. I get that the importance of the balance sheet. I’m just saying this is not the starting point. People are the starting point.
In an interview for DIRECTOR last year marketing expert and leader Mary Portas discussed how putting people first is the key to her success in business:
“It’s a better, more profitable business. It’s a more creative place, a more joyful place. We retain staff, employees put forward people to work here. They speak highly of the company. We’re delivering better work. Honestly, it’s affected all levels.”
It’s not an either / or choice. Putting people first isn’t a price you pay for profits. It’s the starting point for business growth. Remember value is used to denote the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. If you don’t think people are useful to you either as employees or customers / clients then feel free to stop reading this blog right now. If you are only interested in the opinions of people who look like you and sound like, then feel free to make all your business decisions in front of the bathroom mirror. But if you’re still with me and you value people, then let’s talk about which people you value.
In 2018 UEFA (the European Union for Football Associations) launched a campaign to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility in European Football. European clubs, national teams and star players backed the campaign which was designed to rid the game of discrimination. The #EqualGame campaign was to all intense and purpose a social media success, spreading UEFA’s vision that everyone should be able to enjoy football regardless of who they are, where they are from or how they play the game.
“The campaign was created under UEFA’s Respect initiative and designed to spread the positive spirit of inclusion, amplify a clear and uplifting message about the benefits that football brings to the community; show how the game can be enriched by greater diversity; and explain the European football family’s role to make the sport open and accessible to all.”
UEFA certainly value the impact of a social media campaign but they do not value diversity and inclusion. A positive spirit and uplifting messages don’t cut it. If UEFA truly believed the game could be enriched by greater diversity all the decision making positions wouldn’t be filled by people who look alike, middle to mature aged white men. If there’s no diversity in the rooms where your decisions are made, there is no diversity in your organisation, full stop.
A year after this campaign was launched we conducted research with elite coaches in football. Coaches who had played at the top of their game winning Olympic and World Championship titles before transitioning into a coaching role. Coaches who lead their national teams to victory. Coaches who also happened to be women. Coaches who told us of their experience of sexual harassment, of racism. Coaches who were told they could never coach an elite men’s team because they had never played men’s football. The same coaches who were then loosing out of top level coaching jobs for women’s teams because male coaches saw these roles as stepping stones to higher profile jobs in men’s football.
Two years after this campaign was launched we conducted research with decision makers in football, board members of national federations. We interviewed men and women from 7 associations in Europe. All white, able bodied, middle to mature aged individuals. We didn’t ask these board members any specific questions about women’s football but our respondents were incapable of separating women from women’s football. The perceived value of women IN football was therefore solely measured by the perceived value of Women’s Football – because heaven forbid women might know anything about finance or marketing or have any knowledge about football in general. This women for women rhetoric is limiting and insulting and absolutely not in line with UEFA’s desire to “show how the game can be enriched by greater diversity”.
You cannot put out statements supporting D&I if you only value one type of person. Football values white able bodied, sis gender men. Football does not value women. At best it is starting to see some value in women’s football but this value is consistently limited to the business case of whether or not football played by women brings in a return on investment. Football does not see women as people who have anything to add to football. One board member we spoke to who was the first women to be appointed to her associations board of directors explained how she had been labelled a ‘dark horse’ during the recruitment process. Despite having an impressive CV and extensive experience in corporate finance, the fact that she was a women made her an unexpected contender judged unlikely to succeed.
Simply putting out statements related to D&I or running D&I campaigns are all too often an act of performative allyship or at worst hypocritical lip service. If you really want to create diverse and inclusive cultures you have to value people. You have to put people first. Personally I feel like we’re at risk of developing D&I fatigue. In an attempt to react to social pressure, organisations are desperately putting together statements of support and appointing heads of diversity, or creating roles for people and culture leaders. Hashtags are trending and people or busy doing. But what if in our rush to do something we end up doing nothing. Nothing more than running a ‘successful’ media campaign.
So before you run your next D&I campaign or release your D&I supportive statement ask yourself this: How much do you value D&I?
If you believe you value D&I. If you are willing to put people first. If those people don’t all look and sound like you, you’re ready to take these three simple steps. Steps that will help you avoid D&I fatigue and move you beyond D&I lip service. Steps that will change your culture for the better.
STEP 1: BE ALL IN
The opposite of inclusion is exclusion. Exclusion is a fire fuelled by the ‘isms’ racism, sexism, ableism, ageism…these fires spread systemically throughout organisations. They therefore require a systemic approach to distinguish them. If you limit your D&I discussions to the HR department only you will never distinguish the fires. If you value people, if you value inclusion you have to go all in. With every decision that is made ask yourself ‘who am I excluding’. Of course you can’t please all of the people all of the time but you also can’t please one type of person all of the time.
STEP 2: BE VISIBLE
How do you show others what you value? If you value people. If you value diversity and inclusion how do you show that? If you pay men and women differently you clearly do not value their contribution equally. If the headshots of your board members or department heads all look the same, you are sending a message that this is the type of person you value in these positions. It’s human nature to want to share our best bits. By all means share the story that you have created a 5 year plan to increase diversity hires but if you are not willing to address the pay gap these new employees will experience while they work for you, you need to hold off on that press release and return to step 1.
STEP 3: BE REFLECTIVE AND ACCOUNTABLE
Check if you’re doing what you say you’re doing. Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees because we’re too close to the situation and our best intentions are lost in a fog of our own unconscious bias. Get feedback. Work with external parties, D&I consultants who bring a fresh pair of eyes and see things differently. Who pick up on cultural artefacts, or micro aggressions, unconscious bias, or exclusionary policies. Work with internal stakeholders, reduce silo mentality and engage with reverse mentoring. You may be developing a diverse workforce but how included do they feel? Is there equity in you career development structures? In reverse mentoring a junior team member enters into a ‘professional friendship’ with someone more senior and they exchange skills knowledge and understanding. I am by no means saying that it is the job of individual groups to education those in positions of power and privilege but I am encouraging reflection and growth and open communication.
D&I is not a nice to have anymore, it is a need to have. People centred organisations are the ones who will not only survive but thrive. If you need the business case argument to motivate you to step up and make a change its out there. But will always fall short and barely scratch the surface unless you take a people focused approach. These three steps will keep you on track and will change how you approach and engage with D&I, they will help you put out the fires of exclusion for good.