Is diversity just a nice to have?

There have been a few items in the press recently that have made me think about what diversity means to people. The Supreme Court case about triggering Article 50 prompted comments about the lack of diversity in the legal profession. This was shortly followed by former Football Association chiefs calling for change, as the FA is currently ‘out of balance’. In both cases, the number of middle-aged/elderly white men in positions of influence was the focus of comment.

What made me stop and think (and get angry) was one particular response to observations about the judges and barristers in the Supreme Court case: “the most important Supreme Court case in UK history & these numpties are worried about diversity?”

Some people clearly just see diversity as a tick box exercise to keep women and minority ethnic groups happy, something that should be put to one side when really important decisions need to be made, presumably because only white middle-aged men can make important decisions.

Diversity matters. Why?

Putting aside the moral argument that it’s the right thing to do, there are also strong business arguments. The consultancy firm McKinsey & Company carried out research that showed that gender-diverse companies are 15% and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors.  PwC found that 85% of the CEOs whose companies have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy said it’s improved their bottom line.

But what might that strategy look like? One organisation where I recently ran some Recruitment and Selection training have a policy that all interview panels must be mixed gender. This is a good starter but of course only addresses one area of diversity. To find out more about what can and legally should be done, have a look at the Equality and Human Rights Commission website which has some great guidance.

Another source of inspiration is Melody Hobson’s TED talk: Color blind or color brave? Here are some of the points that particularly resonated with me:

  • We should all be discussing diversity openly – if we leave it just to ‘the militant black woman’ to raise the issue, it will be marginalised
  • Colour blindness (going out of our way to ignore race) is dangerous – it doesn’t ensure the absence of discrimination, it just ignores the problem
  • If you’re trying to solve a really hard problem you should have a diverse group of people including those with diverse intellects
  • Observe your environment – purposefully and intentionally invite people into your life who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t act like you, don’t come from where you come from, and you might find that they challenge your assumptions and make you grow as a person

But there’s a downside to diversity, which is a powerful block to change.

Unless you’re looking to significantly increase the overall number of opportunities available, increasing them for under-represented groups will inevitably mean that those currently benefiting will lose out. So what makes the former FA chiefs, all white elderly/middle-aged men, call for more diversity? Surely (to use a seasonal cliché) it’s a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas? The clue is possibly in the word ‘former’ – any change won’t directly affect them.