In these uncertain times, there's a lot of news lately about extremism, inequality and hate.
Sometimes it’s easy to focus on negative headlines and forget why diversity, inclusion and community engagement (DICE) are good things that matter and will always win over discrimination, bigotry and those who seek to gain from conflict.
Let’s not forget that DICE is a relatively recent social and political phenomenon. The Suffragettes mobilised opinion and helped win the vote for British women in 1918, but we would need to wait until the 1960s to see another radical movement rise and defy the contemporary social norms and start a long “second-wave” to remove inequality from our institutions, the work-place and at home.
The gender pay gap is a hot topic and recent revelations on pay disparity between male and female executives, and even among celebrities at the BBC, have resulted in new gender pay transparency regulations in the UK – a kind of “name and shame” way to nudge everyone towards pay parity. But is this enough? Surprisingly, there have been only nine Acts of Parliament in the UK related to DICE in the last 35 years – the last being the Equality Act of 2010. This act of parliament was designed to ensure consistency in what employers and employees need to do to make their workplaces a fair environment and comply with the law.
However, almost 2 years prior to the Equality Act, Lehman Brothers ceased trading and the global financial crisis rocked stock markets everywhere to the point that, for most companies, pay parity and all matters DICE were much less important than simply avoiding Chapter 11 protection and bankruptcy. And while DICE is slowly becoming more prevalent and practiced by organisations and businesses throughout, there has been a reaction and countermovement also, with many rallying to a “political correctness gone mad” point of view. Many people feel strongly that diversity and inclusion has taken away their free speech.
So here we are in 2017. After many years of what we thought was a progressive wave of peaceful activism in society, politics, and the workplace to remove discrimination and value all voices, only to discover we are not at the end of the story – it’s just the beginning. I believe we are all on a much longer journey of “belonging” that will continue to evolve and grow as the demographic and mind set of our working and voting populations change and develop.
As a business leader, I believe cultivating a sense of belonging is becoming more and more important in the workplace and DICE plays a vital role in this. The objective is not to regiment our workforce or impose ideas, rather it is to develop higher levels of understanding as to why all voices are valid and valued and help people see first-hand that those who feel they belong are more inclined to set higher performance goals for themselves, be more resilient and make more positive contributions in team environments and when in contact with customers.
But what do I mean by a sense of belonging? This is the catalyst to forming positive, successful and long-lasting working relationships. Cultivating shared values, engaging with employees and connecting with co-workers, taking the pulse of employee sentiment, developing common purpose, goals and vision are significant contributions to a sense of belonging. When people feel secure, they feel they belong, and security comes from inclusion, representation and support. Ultimately, true belonging is being able to express your own identity, use this to create social bonds, and not have to worry about negative consequences.
Identity representation in the workplace is a key factor in cultivating belonging and those companies that achieve it have experienced strong positive impacts. According to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., companies with diverse ethnicity are 35 percent more likely to outperform businesses that don’t have this diversity. The performance benefits are even higher – 53 percent – for those who are in the top quarter of executive-board diversity. Interestingly, HR experts observe, the companies that really do best are the ones whose workforce has a similar demographic makeup to that of their customer base. This could be a factor in recent reshoring projects to bring services and production lines back to the domestic market and to be closer to the customer. So, for me, DICE is a business issue – not just an HR or regulatory compliance issue.
Something we’ve found works very well to develop belonging is having an extensive Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Here at Gibbs Hybrid, we support four charities – some national and some local. We find that through our charity work, we take ourselves and our business, values and ethics into the community. The new interactions we have with the people we meet outside the workplace adds another, valuable layer of perspective to the way we run our day-to-day business – something which we find very satisfying and rewarding.
I like to travel and share my vision for my company and I ask others at Gibbs Hybrid to do the same. Connecting with workers and clients and bringing people together from remote teams on a regular basis helps build trust, open new feedback channels and remove departmental silos. It’s about bringing the DICE conversation out into the open. In my travels, I see employees who are engaged, and feel they belong; they work against discrimination, bigotry and work towards diversity and inclusion.
Overall, business leaders should be very proud of the fact that DICE in the workplace is increasingly common and generally more accepted. However, modern times create modern challenges and counter-movements and we must double down on our dedication to valuing all voices and creating a sense of belonging, we must pause now and again and ask: “Am I open and intentional about diversity and do I make others feel like they belong?” only then can we communicate, “walk the talk”, motivate people and see our business vision turn into positive results.