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  • Andy Stoker

Don't 'Diversity'... 'Diversify!' (an alternate perspective on this business essential)

Many businesses appear to ‘hire’ diversity.. starting out with a desire to ‘look better’ then often struggling to truly embrace and integrate the new talent that they bring on board. Viewed from this perspective, diversity sometimes looks as if it is treated as an obligation.

This approach is really strange when you think of it. Businesses will happily report on their efforts to ‘diversify’ their business, with all of the commitment, deadlines and funding that goes along with this and other elements of their business strategy. So how is it that ‘diversify’ is a strategy while ‘diversity’ often appears to be considered an obligation?


If we do treat ‘diversity’ as an obligation, then there is a pretty good chance that we are going to be disappointed with the outcomes. But there is another way of doing this well… embracing our business sensibilities and hard skills AND doing the right thing at the same time.


The ‘BUILD’ model starts at the right end of this journey.. with the diversity that we seek to see sitting around the table with our clients, then works backwards through Belonging, Understanding, Including, Loving and finally the act of Diversifying our teams, and in doing so hiring the right talent to make good on our desires and commitments. ...and of course fulfilling a very important ‘obligation’ at the same time.

But just to say it again.. 'diversity' should never start with ‘obligation’... though we may still end up there and we do need to take these obligations seriously (* read to the end).


Why diversity matters to our businesses: The only reason that any of our businesses exist is because we help our clients to diversify. Our clients come to us because we think and act differently to them. We bring different capabilities… we execute in different ways… we have different perspectives… and we ‘care’ differently. If we were not different, then there would be no need for us to be there. Remember that classic 2-part question to potential customers: What problem are you trying to solve? Why is it that you are not doing this yourselves?


So if our differentiator… our reason to exist, is rooted in diversity, then it is natural that we should seek to diversify our teams. If we have three of the ‘same person’ showing up in front of a client or working in a project, diversity is diluted. Three unique individuals, however, bring with them so much more perspective.. opinion.. expertise.. value - leading to a greater team experience and client experience and better outcomes.


So let's start here with that great client experience and work this model backwards...


BUILD - BELONG

So if diversity starts around the table with our clients.. how do we intentionally build and nurture this within our business? It’s most definitely not a simple matter of ‘assembling’ the right diverse group of people. In order to properly unlock the power of the individual and their voice around the table, we need to nurture a culture of Belonging. The origin of this word 'belong' in Old English is simple but compelling.. to ‘be’ (think ‘I can bring all of me’) for ‘long’ (‘I like this so much I can see myself wanting to stay here’). This simple word ‘belonging’ reveals a complex challenge… how do we create and sustain an environment where individuals can truly be themselves and are willing to invest their valuable days together with us? The word Belong has at least 3 applications.. ‘I feel that I belong’ (I have an affinity for a specific place or situation) - ‘I do/ do not belong’ (having membership of a group or organisation) - ‘I am judged to be worthy of belonging’ (judged to have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group)

So for our individuals to be able to say ‘I belong here’, we have to think carefully about what it really takes to make this deceptively simple statement real… and to check in on them regularly to make sure that this remains ‘whole’. Get this wrong, and you will gain but a small fraction of their potential contribution.


BUILD - UNDERSTAND

To properly embrace diversity around the table, we have to give individuals a voice. We need to properly listen and Understand their perceptions and perspectives. Perceptions and Perspectives sits somewhere between Observations and Conclusions and are a rich seam of powerful information and insight that is so often overlooked in our rush to establish the ‘right’ answers. By properly listening to the Perceptions and Perspectives around the table, we gain insight on how individuals are piecing information together to make patterns and models.. forming their own inner conclusions that are influenced through their life of education, lived experiences, values and emotions. While individual perceptions often differ significantly, they are ‘correct’ in each person’s mind, and when shared provide such great insight… the very foundation of diverse thinking IF we allow those voices to be heard and are curious about how those perceptions have formed… how and why they differ. This requires a high degree of Trust and Psychological Safety which is a whole separate consideration, skillset and culture to build within your organisation… but one that delivers huge rewards. We may even need to become comfortable in embracing ‘paradox’ (‘a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true’)

If your teams are not places of Trust, Psychological Safety and intellectual curiosity… and free from judgement - then the great investments you have made in your Diversity Plan is now going down the pan in the form of unsaid, unshared, unexplored and unappreciated contributions.


BUILD - INCLUDE

One of the essential elements of belonging is to be Included. The word 'Include' comes from the latin ‘includere’ which means ‘to shut in’. So let’s think carefully about who we have chosen to ‘shut in’.. and in doing so who we have intentionally or otherwise chosen to ‘shut out’.

There are 3 applications of this word too… ‘being selected for inclusion’ (I have been chosen) - ‘included within a whole’ (my team have been assigned/ my company was acquired) - ‘having equal access to opportunities and resources’ ...and this last one of course is Equality!

The first two are simple and binary.. you are either in or out, but equality is way more sophisticated and difficult to achieve. Equality relates to values of fairness, justice, merit and quite rightly provokes emotional reactions when failings are called out. In order to test ourselves, consider if we really do provide equal access to opportunities and resources for young and old, Architect and Designer, women and men, long and short tenure, English speaking or ‘other’, office-based or remote-worker, full and partially sighted, hearing, mobile (and so on).

And here’s the thing.. those who fit any or all of the criteria listed above are potential sources of the very diversity that we and our clients seek around the table.

So now we are firmly in the middle of the BUILD model, let’s take the opportunity to come out and say this very clearly…. DIVERSITY IS AN ASSET (not just an obligation).


BUILD - LOVE

Love is an underused word in business. Love in this context is caring for someone… wanting the best outcome for them. Wanting the precious days that your employees give to your business to count as something that matters.. for the part of their life that they give to you to be ‘worthy of their lifetime’. Understanding that when someone joins you, you become part of their life story… contributing to a future narrative that is the whole world to them. Maybe your business isn’t the centre of their universe.. but if you make your people the centre of your business then you are on your way to achieving a place of wonderful balance between ‘work’ and ‘life’ - a commitment based on mutual appreciation. It is this love (or care) that will underpin your drive to ensure that your people experience equality in your business.

If you properly care for the humans in your care… treat them as valued human beings vs ‘human resources’, then you have a leadership culture will be able to deliver in your strategy to diversify. If your leaders, however, are ‘collecting diversity’ as if they were collecting a set of sports cards.. you are more than wasting everyone's time - it’s insulting and is proven to be completely counterproductive. And remember that at some point along the client experience, service is delivered from one human to another… your clients meet your people - and pretty quickly they sense your culture of care close-up.

[And BTW… organisations that don’t care for their employees are going to run into trouble fast. The Great Resignation may or may not transpire to be a wholesale movement, but there is for sure a Great Reflection underway. Who wants to give their precious time to someone who doesn’t care for them? I think that the world has agreed to ‘call time’ on that one].

BUILD - DIVERSIFY

So what is this word ‘Diversity’? This comes from the latin ‘diverter’ which means ’to turn aside’.

Once more, a trip to the dictionary reveals at least 3 applications… ‘Variety’ - ‘A range of different things’ - ‘Different social and ethnic backgrounds or different genders, equal orientation etc.’

That last application came with a shortened list.. we can easily add to this neurodiversity, style, language, introvert/extrovert, cultural upbringing, values, several traits such as attitude to risk and trust…

The list is seemingly endless - which is why we are all so fascinating and difficult - full of potential to complement or clash - to amplify or to diminish each others power. And if you start at this step and work your way up the BUILD ladder, that is exactly the challenge that you have created for yourself. You are left solving for how to make this matter, to create equality, to properly integrate, to intentionally embrace each others perceptions in order to understand each other, to build towards a sense of belonging… and finally to have all of this integrated together at the table with your clients. It’s so hard swimming upstream like this…. which is why we are passionate advocates of the top-down BUILD route!

* Of course.. after taking this top-down route from Belonging to Diversity, if you find that for some reason you are not organically fulfilling ‘your obligations’.. that your team still doesn’t ‘look right’ - then go and make a special effort to hire and consciously embrace someone specific. But be mindful that there is a significant difference between ''hiring for a purpose' and 'hiring then purposing'.


So don’t ‘Diversity’ as an initiative… BUILD a strategy that ‘Diversifies’ your teams!

Build resilience - seek new ideas that lead to products and services - enter new markets - outrun relentless commoditisation - create more value - accelerate your transformation - achieve your vision - fulfil your purpose: all of the things that a strategy of true business diversification delivers. In doing so you get to support all of those other metrics driven business priorities that you have… and rather conveniently you will also fulfil your social obligations and save you from looking increasingly ridiculous in front of your employees and customers!


 

BUILD

Belong - (Be…) all of me placed front-and-centre.. (…long) wrapped in the desire for and the security of longevity

Understand - listening and celebrating each other’s perceptions - my voice will be heard

Include - equality of access and fairness for all

Love - to want the very best for someone - to care about this being worthy of their lifetime and talent

Diversify - actively seeking to inspire, attract, hire and retain an intentionally diverse team of people to satisfy all of these goals



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