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Diversity improves businesses and performance - but who is shouldering the burden of change?

Diversity & Inclusion is a topic that should be deeply-seated in all of our social, political and moral agenda. So pain me as it does to discuss Diversity & Inclusion in financial terms - by now, even the heads buried deepest in the sands that oppose change, have had to acknowledge that diversity is good for business. Research has consistently shown that companies with a more diverse senior management team can expect higher returns on equity and on earnings before interest and taxes (see Barta, Kliener and Nuemann. 2008.). The explanation offered for this, almost always places the burden of new thought on those who are currently underrepresented. However, research conducted by Tufts University observed that diverse groups perform better than homogeneous groups when making decisions “due to significant changes in white behaviour. Whites on diverse juries cited more facts, made fewer mistakes in recalling facts and evidence, and pointed out missing evidence more frequently than did those on all-white juries. They were also amendable to discussing racism when in diverse groups.” (Interpersonal relations and group processes. 2006. Samuel R. Sommers). Whichever way you look at it – diversity is a good thing, assuming you are of sound mind and not a raging bigot? If that is you, you are welcome to stop reading now and continue foaming at the mouth talking about “the good old days”.

What is clear, is that whether you view it from a capitalist position or one of basic human decency, we need more PoC, more women, more neuro-diverse, more LGBTQ+ people in the boardrooms and less…. Well, less people who look like me! Now It is not my aim here to diminish this debate, this is an issue that is felt far more deeply by those who have suffered and continue to suffer from the inequalities engrained in our society, in ways I will never truly understand. My aim is to show my support for their empowerment and to highlight the reasons D&I is so important. To simplify this, I will divide the debate into two factions; a moral argument and a business case.

As stated above, the research overwhelmingly shows that diversity means more money. Yet still, in the UK ,only one CEO of a FTSE 100 company is black. Just one. This figure should ignite outrage in even the most apathetic of business leaders when we consider the McKinsey report Delivering Through DiversityTop-team ethnic and cultural diversity is correlated with profitability. In our 2017 data set, we looked at racial and cultural diversity in six countries where the definition of ethnic diversity was consistent and our data were reliable. As in 2014, we found that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams—not only with respect to absolute representation but also of variety or mix of ethnicities —are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.” Put simply, if your workforce doesn’t reflect your market, it is unlikely you will be able to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of the community you serve.

I cannot speak as anyone other than the white, cisgender, heterosexual male that I am, but I can acknowledge the comfort I feel walking into almost any business meeting or boardroom. I am rarely in a minority and rarely am I considered the other, by acknowledging this I must also acknowledge the discomfort that must be felt by those who are. If your boardroom is only a place of comfort for people who look like me, you are failing in Diversity & Inclusion and you are likely losing talent within your organisation to companies who are not.

In recent months many of us have been working from home, so I will simplify my moral argument for Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace; scroll through the playlists on your phone, look through the spices in your cupboard, look at the literature on your shelves and the films in your collections. In every aspect of our lives we expect to borrow from other cultures, to enjoy art of black origin, to taste food from eastern cultures and to read stories from the minds brilliant women. So to not afford these same people an equal voice and equal opportunity within business, is morally bankrupt, and, given the research, will likely lead to actual bankruptcy.

Theo Harris

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