How to make the most of a team’s collective intelligence

By Sara Bell

You are almost certainly aware how much effort has been spent on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives in recent years. And yet many organisations still struggle with overcoming the barriers and biases that prevent them from truly benefitting from their most valuable asset: their people. With the right approach, however, obstacles can be overcome and the benefits of Diversity can be fully realised.

Addressing the barriers outside the team
There’s no point in denying it: bias is real and needs to be addressed head-on. This means revisiting policies and practices to ensure all stakeholders are catered for.  Many policies and practices inadvertently exclude certain groups, such as hiring requirements that favour a specific degree or experience which is not obtainable by many.  By broadening the criteria and considering a wider range of qualifications, for instance, organisations can increase the pool of candidates and ensure a more diverse workforce. And if a business can remove these barriers and then embrace the wide-ranging perspectives of a diverse workforce, that will bring enormous benefits to the business.

Making the most of a team’s collective intelligence
Perhaps the most exciting benefit of the removal of organisational barriers, is the opportunity it creates to harness the benefits of increased creativity and innovation in the organisation. By bringing together individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives, organisations can tap into a wider range of ideas and solutions. This can lead to new products, services and processes that better meet the needs of a diverse customer base and create a competitive advantage.  But not without first exposing the biases and barriers that creep into the decisions made at meetings, for instance.  One way to do so is with our Inclusive Meetings methodology, that encourages clients to run meetings, make decisions, and design new practices that amplify previously quiet voices in a way that draws everyone in.

How does this work, exactly?  Let me share a concrete example:

Over the past year, I have been working with a multi-national executive leadership team to support them in having a different type of conversation when they meet. Previously, the most noticeable voices at meetings were of those speaking in their native tongue, taking up the majority of the talking time, at meetings with an informal business agenda.  So the first thing we did is to suggest that a formal agenda structure helps make the business meeting more accessible to those who are not native speakers, as everyone can prepare for it in advance and anticipate what’s coming up.

Throughout the workshops, we practised speaking in turn, as part of a Round, where members had equal speaking times during which there were no interruptions. The most immediate feedback from the team on this was how nice it was to hear such a variety of different voices and perspectives. Over time the true magic of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion had set in: as the team continued to actively listen for different perspectives, challenges and solutions, the elephant in the room finally surfaced.  Once people felt able to contribute openly and authentically, knowing that their perspective was going to be valued, they admitted that their current team dynamic didn’t serve the purpose of their team.  It then became clear that they had to work together differently to solve the complex challenges facing them as a team and as a company. They realised that the way they had become used to working together was one of the biggest obstacles to delivering on their strategy.

What made the difference in the approach suggested by us was how they started to value each other’s diverse experiences and perspectives.  By being open to learning and acknowledging the need to create an inclusive team environment, the team is now able to capitalise on its full collective intelligence for the success of the business.  The quieter voices – generally the women on the team – who now trusted that their contribution was welcomed and going to be heard without interruption, were able to speak freely about the strategic imperative for product innovation.  What I realised then (as I had with other clients) was that our inclusive meetings methodology liberated thinking and encouraged attention.  The team now trust this different way of leading.

The way this and other teams had managed to change how they work together is living proof that diverse teams in an inclusive environment are more likely to identify and address blind spots, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving for their clients.

In conclusion, eliminating Equity, Diversity and Inclusion barriers and biases requires a proactive and intentional approach. By creating a culture of inclusion and embracing diversity, organisations can tap into the full range of talent and ideas. This in turn leads to increased creativity and innovation, better decision-making and a more competitive edge, which is surely a reason no business leader can resist in the current financial climate?

A coach with a clipboard talking to his team on a field

Five tips for creating a compelling EDI Narrative

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

The success of your Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy depends to a large extent on how successful the leadership is in engaging the staff population. This will depend greatly on the narrative leaders embrace when talking about the benefits that EDI offer to your company.  It’s worth thinking carefully about precisely what that message should entail and how it might land with employees.

To ensure your EDI strategy is relatable to every person, I offer you the following five tips:

1.  Start with Why

  • Start your communication by explaining why EDI is important to your company. What is the opportunity that the company is seeking to achieve with its EDI strategy?  This is the high-level narrative that might be set out in the EDI strategy or on the website. This high-level overview sets the tone for a more detailed discussion.
  • Continue by explaining why EDI is important to your specific department or group. For this communication to be effective, the high-level narrative needs to be adapted, with examples that they can directly relate to.   Are you perhaps a sales team that needs to reflect and understand the different types of customers you have so that they can feel heard and understood? Or maybe you’re the IT team looking after the rest of the organisation, so EDI helps you not only to understand the needs of your in-house clients but to come up with solutions for the different scenarios in which IT is utilised. Or maybe you run the premises security department, so EDI could make it easier to get a sense for the varied situations that might cause security breaches and how to pre-empt and/or address them.  Whatever the team, there will be a specific benefit that EDI affords you. If you don’t yet know exactly what that might be, it is a good idea to spend some time thinking about it and even asking the team to think about this together; another option is to ask peers or your EDI team.

2.  Provide the right incentive
Motivate your team using both a ‘carrot’ (explaining how EDI helps us improve what we do and how it will help us hit our targets) and a ‘stick’ (what will happen if we do nothing).

A carrot approach will start with those benefits referenced above, but you can also provide other incentives, like monthly recognition or even prizes.  Some companies incorporate rewards for people who are proactively helping achieve targets or other EDI-related ambitions.  The most common reward is for managers who succeed in expanding the diversity of their teams; others can include cash for the introduction of suitable candidates with a diverse background or identity (i.e. different from the one dominant in the team), or for identifying a bias in a process and offering sensible solutions to address it.

A stick approach might be equally as familiar.  This is when people are discouraged from  unwanted behaviour, such as harassment or microaggressions, by clarifying that this is unacceptable in the workplace and will not be tolerated. Another one is to ask the team what they think would happen if they didn’t embrace the company’s EDI ambitions – how much of a future would they have in the organisation as a team, and even as an organisation, if others also took no action?

This approach of providing an incentive to help on the one hand, and a reason not to get in the way on the other, will relate to most parts of the EDI journey and thus will have the broadest appeal.

3. State Your Ask
Once you’ve set the scene for the importance of EDI to your organisation and team and provided suitable motivation, it’s time to be specific about your ask: what do you want each person to do?  A good general example of this is this statement made by the Chair of PWC a few years ago:

Are there people who just feel like they got cheated? Yes there are.  And what I say to those people is ‘I’m asking you to respect what we are trying to do.  I’m asking you to respect our colleagues. I’m asking you to have compassion.  And if you don’t agree, that’s OK.  You don’t have to agree with me.  But I do need you to live our values.’ 

A more specific ask can be requesting that each person attends offered training on the subject (if they haven’t yet) and brings their learning into team meetings where the topics might be discussed for 10-15 minutes.  For those who have been actively engaged in EDI, this might be an invitation to help observe unwanted behaviours and call out what might be hidden assumptions and judgment as and when they occur, in the spirit of the entire team learning to address them.  For those who have lived experience of bias or discrimination, perhaps some of them may wish to share it with the wider team, so that everyone can become more aware of the struggles of a few.

4.  Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware 
If you’re introducing a change into a homogenous team, expect there to be friction.  It’s important to acknowledge in your messaging that push-back, mistakes and even paralysis (i.e. the feeling that you can’t say or do anything anymore that won’t be ‘misinterpreted’) are all part of the process.  Mistakes are a great way to learn, so as long as people are trying, it is OK to misstep and learn from it.  Be clear about the type of supportive environment you wish to create so the team can grow and evolve together on this journey. Explain that you’re all in the same boat and, while some are sitting at the stern and others the bow, the boat will be advancing through uncharted waters together, with a captain that is but a few steps ahead of everyone else.  Make it clear that you are available to your team if they have questions or worries about the changes taking place and invite them to speak to you individually. Explain how you envisage the team handling the inevitable mistakes, how you will be learning together and how you will support each other as you practise new skills and form new habits.

5. Staying the Course
While it is expected that people will misstep as they’re learning together, it is also important to formalise expectations, so that you can address any non-compliance with the company’s EDI ambitions.  So to complete the message, consider how you could enforce non-compliance informally or formally if it becomes obstructive.  What is a reasonable time period for learning, after which you will expect people to have made strides forward and have fewer missteps?  What will you do if you notice people aren’t making the necessary effort?  When will you take stock of the progress you’ve made and adjust the course of your journey? You may wish to involve the rest of the team to come up with answers to these questions.  The more people agree the boundaries, the easier they will be to enforce.

In summary, saying the right thing to the rest of the employee population will help you deliver on your EDI strategy.  Crafting this message will take a bit of thinking time.  But to paraphrase one of Nancy Kline’s most powerful quotes, the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.  So it’s worth investing a few minutes to articulate this message in writing and to practise delivering it, so it lands exactly as intended every time you deliver it.

What will your EDI message look like?

Setting the tone for Inclusion early

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

To reap the benefits of Diversity for our organisations, we need to start working on Inclusion early in people’s careers.

So, two weeks ago, I posed the question of how to engage those at the start of their careers with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and embed inclusive behaviours they will carry through their working lives.

This is a crucial challenge to address, as these people are the leaders of the future and will be responsible for the working culture of that future. For this reason, it is important to get EDI on the agenda early in their careers and to make it part of their business learning rather than a later add-on.
Why does it matter?
The business opportunity arising from a more diverse workplace is well-established: from the necessary engagement of all voices around the table so they can share their versatile experiences, to employing empathy in understanding customers and stakeholders, to producing creative, innovative solutions to complex problems. In order for a business to continue to grow and thrive, benefiting from the diverse thinking and experience of all their people, it is vital to embed a culture of Inclusion that allows us to tap into these benefits.

Embedding inclusive behaviours is particularly challenging in the wake of COVID, as many graduates and emerging talent have not been exposed to much face-to-face working and may lack the depth of interpersonal experience or the ‘soft skills’ their predecessors had – skills that are harder to develop when working remotely. Any training in these skills should also build in an awareness of inclusive behaviours – we all need to be inclusive whether we are writing emails, having team meetings on Zoom or gathering in person.

There is also the onset of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that might well replace some of the ways in which we practise our relationship building skills – from how we ask for others’ input, to how we think creatively to come up with solutions, to how we programme technology that serves the entire population.   To ensure that our AI tools don’t impact us negatively by accelerating the demise of inclusive behaviours, and that we don’t develop AI that is blind to the diversity of our societies, it’s important to impress these skills on those starting out – both early and frequently.

Rising to the challenge
Some of our clients are incorporating Inclusion as part of their onboarding or graduate programme training.  In fact, we often get involved in this, providing crucial career progression skills training through the lens of Inclusion.  We run training days on topics such as emotional intelligence, growth mindset, imposter syndrome, career management and inclusive communications.  Others have training on similar relationship building skills.

For organisations that don’t have training programmes for their new starters, we have developed a practical solution that addresses these challenges: our new training tool for emerging talent – Stepping Stones to Inclusive Behaviours in the Workplace©.  A series of short videos that introduce and explain our 8 Inclusive Behaviours©, and use challenges to help the participants understand and practise them in their daily lives.
What else can be done?
Videos like the Stepping Stones provide a foundation that can be built upon with further workshops and training. Adding to this a mixture of EDI-related training – such as how to address the most common biases in the workplace, or how to see, think about and implement EDI practices – will help convert the various training topics into a culture of inclusion and belonging.

If we want our future workplaces to be more diverse, inclusive and equitable, we need today’s emerging talent to get on board. They will be the ones setting the tone for culture in the future, not to mention strategies and protocols around hiring, progression and compensation. It makes sense to help them understand at this early stage how being inclusive benefits everyone in the business – and the business itself.

In what ways do you engage your emerging talent in EDI and maintain a culture of inclusive behaviours?

Seeing EDI as a business opportunity

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

This month we’re moving on to Stage 4 of the Diversity Journey Roadmap: Seeing Diversity as an opportunity. This is where we find ourselves once we understand that looking at Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) as a problem to solve is an inactive way to motivate behaviour change, but that looking at EDI as an opportunity to improve our business is a more active and more effective approach to bring about change.

Last week, I ran an EDI workshop for a senior leadership team where I referenced the need for EDI to be a business imperative. One of the leaders challenged this by saying that, so long as we look at EDI as a box to tick on a KPI chart, i.e., doing it because the business requires it, we: will not get the behaviour change that is needed.  This kind of change must come from the heart, the leader continued. If we’re not motivated from within, we will not be able to achieve the transformation we’re after.

EDI as a Business Imperative
The disconnect between my statement and what the leader heard was that he interpreted my words ‘business imperative’ as something that we do just because someone higher up says we must.  It is a dashboard exercise, to which most people are not wedded but feel compelled to execute.

What I mean with the words ‘business imperative’ is treating EDI like a business requirement necessary to improve the business.  Think about health and safety in the workplace, for example.  First introduced in the UK to protect working children and, later,  miners,  health and safety became a business imperative to protect employees – and employers – and thus the business.  It is something that is taken very seriously by employers and has, as a result, made business a better place for everyone.

If leaders were to think about EDI in similar ways – something that is a business necessity – it would be easier to implement some of the required changes.

EDI allows businesses to grow and thrive
But of course EDI is more than just a business requirement.  Thinking of it as an opportunity means using the benefit of Diversity – the creativity, innovation, ability to address complex business problems – to improve business solutions.  EDI allows people to better relate to their customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, thereby improving the product or service being provided by the organisation.  Take the Empathy Suit, for example: a suit that inhibits physical movement so that the person wearing it might experience what it’s like to move around like an elderly person.  Born out of an experiment conducted by a group of diverse thinkers, the suit has been used to develop new products and services, and more recently, to train future doctors to understand what it’s like to live with physical impairment.

An inclusive work environment also makes it more likely that employees feel motivated and engaged in performing their daily routines.  An inclusive work environment is a psychologically-safe work environment and as Google’s Project Aristotle showed, psychological safety was the biggest factor in enhancing team performance, thus saving cost and improving delivery – another way in which EDI benefits the business.

EDI must come from the heart
It’s true that one of the main reasons people care about EDI is that it’s the right thing to do.  Treating others with respect, kindness and understanding is something we also wish for ourselves.  Call it harmony, karma or simply ‘what goes around, comes around’,  but we all understand that if we want to be treated a certain way, we must treat others in the same way.

So why isn’t this enough of a motivator?  Because, when it comes to making business choices, it is often too  difficult to do the ‘right thing’.  And that’s assuming we actually know what the right thing is.  Here’s an example: most would agree that women deserve the same opportunities as men, but when it comes to choosing between candidates, it feels wrong to choose a woman over a man simply because ‘it’s the right thing to do’ – and maybe it isn’t even the right thing to do!  EDI becomes more difficult to execute if we are simply motivated by our moral compass or desire to pave the way for our daughters, nieces or friends. In fact, doing the right thing is what Stage 3 is about: fixing a problem of inequality.   While doing the right thing is a noble aspiration, as behaviour scientists know, it doesn’t bring about the much needed change in behaviour.

To make a real difference with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, we need to be convinced of the benefits that we will derive from it.  And that is what I mean by seeing EDI as a business opportunity.

Do you see it this way?


Three Actions that help you hit your EDI targets

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Last week, we spoke about how to set realistic, impactful targets.  Today, I want to share three actions that will ensure that targets are duly socialised and seen in the right context.  These actions may seem self-evident, but as we know, the devil is always in the details and execution.  Anything from the wording used to the frequency with which we engage in these actions will have a great impact on the success of our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy, including making sure that everyone sees these targets as a help rather than a hindrance.

Action 1:  Understanding and communicating the business case for EDI
Yes, that old chestnut again.

In this iteration, what we’re after is to ensure that leaders are fully engaged with the EDI strategy, and communicate it with confidence and authenticity.  To do so will require each leader’s and manager’s understanding of the business case for EDI as it pertains to their department or team.

Understanding the business case, however, is only the first step. What’s even more important is to speak about the business case that confirms the understanding and belief that EDI is an important part of the business agenda.

Thinking about how we portray EDI as leaders will make a huge difference. EDI should not be another item on the list to turn to, once all the business items have been discussed. If a leader innocuously says ‘OK, now that business matters are out of the way, let’s talk Diversity and Inclusion’ they set the tone for the topic as something that is tangential to the main event, a side show or a warm-up act, and therefore not imperative to the business. And we know that is not true.

Another example of where organisations fall foul of this is when, at business conferences, EDI related conversations take place alongside the main agenda, or before or after the conference.  It’s also the case when EDI events are attended only by those for whom EDI is seen as most relevant – women and members of other underrepresented groups in the workplace. More leaders and people with wider influence need to attend these events, to reassert the importance of the topic of conversation.

Leaders who say that they understand the business case need to show over and over again that they really do – not just with words that say they do, but also with words that don’t say they don’t!

Action 2:  Making talent management processes more transparent and objective.
We know that bias creeps into every single talent management process such as recruitment, onboarding, development and progression.  We know this because the percentage of members of underrepresented groups in each of these processes does not reflect pool of all candidates available for each of them.

In our last blog, I talked about identifying the level of seniority, for instance, at which women become stuck. This is the so-called Marzipan layer – senior enough to have had a successful career but so sticky that progression beyond this level is difficult.

Once this sticking point is identified, it’s important to understand what part of the process is responsible for it:  is it that the attributes of leadership beyond this level – networking, being outspoken, have gravitas –  favour the dominant type (e.g., white, educated men)? Or that the requirements for progression require the type of experience that members of underrepresented groups find difficult to obtain, because progression and visibility opportunities often present themselves informally (often also due to societal and other biases)?

When we start looking for the bias that has (inadvertently) crept into the process – and let’s face it, this is more often than not the reason for the lack of progression of any given group of people – it is surprisingly easy to identify the bias and to correct it.  One way is to review all written feedback given to employees and look for patterns of feedback for members of an underrepresented group.  Women, for instance, are often judged on their attributes and personality rather than their skills, or are discussed in terms of experience rather than potential, unlike most men. Look for wording that evidences this bias, words that make it sound like the person doesn’t have enough gravitas, influence, a large enough network, or words that describe a lack of experience like needs more time or could use more mentoring/sponsorship or needs to know the product lines better. Compare this wording against written feedback given to the dominant group to see whether it’s even-keeled or showcases a bias.

Many ways in which to identify and correct the most common biases in the workplace are set out in the book Bias Interrupted by Joan C. Williams.  There are even more ideas and resources in the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook by Lisa Kepinski and Tinna C Nielsen, to name but two of many resources on this topic.  Implementing some of these changes will make a remarkable difference to bringing fairness and objectivity to the process in question.

Action 3:  Measuring Inclusion
Measuring Inclusion is something that needs to be done in more than one way.
Once a correction is implemented, for instance, it becomes important to set a target on the relevant process so as to measure its success.  That should be done for every correction or measure implemented to correct a systemic bias.

It is also important, however, to get a sense for how inclusive the culture of a team, department or organisation is.  This can be done with surveys, which many organisations already have.  Even better, however, is the exercise of listening groups, where a trained facilitator or coach (internal or external) asks open questions and probes further into the answers, and measures the results against the views of a control group.

The results from these types of qualitative listening exercises are surprisingly revealing and can inspire specific actions to address whatever other Inclusion shortcomings become apparent.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that addressing EDI like any other business challenge will yield effective change.  I am, however, always surprised when people say to me, referring to an incident: how do we change this kind of thinking or behaviour? The answer isn’t rocket science; we are all equipped to come up with the right solutions, and there are many resources out there that can help.  The issue, I believe, is in the way we see EDI; as something that’s unfamiliar and requires skills and expertise we do not possess, or is the responsibility of Human Resources of People & Culture departments, or is discounted as a ‘soft’ skills issue, not as significant as hard business skills.  This is of course where we come full circle and start at the very top with Action #1: the old chestnut.

Setting Diversity Targets: The Good, the Bad and the Impactful

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Targets are controversial.  Those in favour of them often say what gets measured gets done, while others might say that setting targets skirts the issue of creating greater diversity and inclusion by focusing on the numbers rather than inclusive leadership, inclusive behaviours and genuinely impactful initiatives.

We agree with all of the above.

Confused? Let me explain.

We think that setting targets can be tremendously helpful if we use them as a measure of our progress to become more inclusive.  In other words, when targets are linked to an impactful initiative, they provide a useful measure by which we can gauge the success of our EDI efforts. But we also know that there is little or no value in setting targets without attaching them to a purposeful set of actions designed to improve Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

How to set impactful Diversity targets
Read on for some suggestions for setting sensible, realistic targets that measure how inclusive your organisation is becoming. These are targets set on a big Diversity dimension, such as female graduate candidates or the percentage of women at leadership level.  They are the targets that you would encounter most often in company’s press releases about their commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.

To set these targets in a meaningful way requires some due diligence, which might begin with the two questions below. What is required then is identifying which specific initiatives to put in place, with appropriate and achievable targets.

1. Which is the most underrepresented group in your company?

This might be women if you are in a STEM environment.  It might, however, be ethnicity if you are in the Third or Public Sectors.

Identifying the biggest underrepresented group in your organisation can also be a useful exercise in understanding your target market. How different are your clients, customers, or users from your employee population? Where is this gap the biggest?

Alternatively, if you are looking at growing your market share, you may wish to look beyond the representation of your current customers to those you wish to attract. What is the biggest gap between the representation of the additional market opportunity and your employee population?

2. Where in your career ladder is the underrepresented group missing or dropping off?

Once you’ve identified which underrepresented group you wish to attract or retain, it’s time to identify where the biggest hole is for this group in your employee life cycle.  Is it in attracting candidates from this group?  Perhaps it’s in the actual hiring process?  Or are you managing quite well in hiring people from the underrepresented group, but failing to keep them over a certain period of time? Or is your company unable to progress them beyond a certain level?

Finding the process that creates the biggest obstacle to building the desired level of representation will help you identify the right measures to turn things around.

3. Employ impactful measures to address the challenge. 

As stated above, targets are most impactful when they measure the success of a specific initiative.  So, having identified the specific challenge you face, it is time to develop an initiative that addresses it.  Here are two examples of companies who generated their own ideas and solutions to their individual challenges:

One client, having identified that they were unsuccessful at attracting female engineering graduates to their company, started partnering with women’s engineering networks at several learning institutions.  They started sending female representatives to university fairs and sending ambassadors to talk about their company’s efforts to improve the representation of female graduates, clearly stating their reasons for doing so.  It worked.

Another client, having recognised that women were not being promoted beyond a certain level of seniority, introduced a sponsorship programme which pairs many of its senior leaders with emerging female leaders to ensure they get the visibility and opportunities that might typically be reserved (inadvertently) for male colleagues. This has also been highly effective.

4. Identify the right target.

Once the specific measure is instituted, care must be taken to set realistic expectations for the impact the measure will have. By what percentage does the company expect the targeted underrepresented group to grow in the identified area? (This will depend on the usual percentage of the target group in the identified area, as well as the impact of external market forces.) What is the usual percentage of female graduates in your pool? What is the sector average for this measure? What is the lowest and the highest percentage of this range?

Having taken the answers to all these questions into account, it becomes easier to set a more realistic target to measure the success of the relevant initiative. Even then, targets may need to be periodically revisited – based on their success or failure – and adjusted accordingly.

When it comes to setting big targets, doing a bit of thinking and planning in advance will always yield more meaningful results.

There are, of course, other types of targets to consider, including so called ‘no more than’ targets for specific teams where, instead of identifying a target percentage for a specific type of person (for instance, women), the emphasis shifts to having no more than a certain percentage of a specific type of person (for instance, men).

Finally, you will also want to consider how widely to set the targets. Is one common target appropriate for the entire company globally, region by region, office by office or even department by department? We know that, although average figures might make certain targets look favourable, when looking more closely, Diversity might not have really been achieved in areas where it would be more difficult (e.g., technical vs administrative, front office vs back office).

Whatever you decide to do about targets, following Nancy Kline’s advice (included above as our quote for the week) will ensure successful implementation.

Is Fixing the Diversity Deficit the Right Approach to EDI?

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Stage 3 of the Diversity Journey Roadmap© is where leaders recognise a lack of Diversity, see that it is a problem for the organisation and want to ‘fix it’. This is a positive step forward from just appearing to be doing something about it, as in the previous ‘Window Dressing’ stage of the journey, but there are also pitfalls in this stage.

It’s not easy to create genuine change, or to be an ally, especially if you don’t know how to go about it without appearing patronising. This is because leaders’ actions can be prone to missteps and misinterpretation if they are taken without a real understanding of how it feels to be excluded, undervalued or misunderstood in your workplace because you are different from those in its dominant group. It is reasonably straightforward to understand that a workplace should allow everyone to thrive and meet their potential, as nicely summarised in this quote from the CIPD:

‘Promoting and delivering EDI in the workplace is an essential aspect of good people management. To reap the benefits of EDI, it’s about creating working environments and cultures where every individual can feel safe, a sense of belonging and is empowered to achieve their full potential.’
Needless to say, it’s much harder to achieve these Diversity goals than it is to describe them.
The first problem with fixing the problem
Leaders setting out to increase inclusion in their workplace are always well-intentioned, but they can inadvertently become ‘knights in shining armour’ without realising that this means they are approaching Diversity from an angle that is difficult to ‘sell’.‘Fixing’ Diversity is a noble aspiration – after all, we all want to do the right thing and work in an environment that is reflective of society at large, in a workplace that is fair and respectful to all. But if this remains the main motivation for diversifying the workplace, it may fail to deliver the desired result.  This is because, when it comes down to making business decisions, decision makers will prioritise what they believe is a more important business result to their desire to be inclusive.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Imagine you’re hiring to fill a role on your team.  Your team is made up of five men and one woman, and you’re keen to hire another woman to improve the gender split in the team.  You’ve instructed HR accordingly and they have provided a roster of capable candidates including men and women.  Interviews are progressing well and you’re down to 2 final candidates, both of whom are experienced enough to do the job.  One is a man and the other is a woman.  The interview panel is instructed to think about the gender balance on your team, but they also observe that the male candidate is an internal candidate who knows a few of the team members already and is better networked with some of the clients.  So, although gender balance is an important aspect of the hiring decision, you’re now faced with a male candidate who is marginally better suited to the job than the female candidate.  And, while you’re keen to fix the Diversity problem, you don’t want that to be the overarching factor of your hiring decisions, so you go for who you perceive to be the better candidate – the better fit for the team and the job, i.e. the man.

This is not a made up scenario.  Leaders and managers struggle with these kinds of choices almost every day.  Do we do what we believe will deliver the better business outcome or do we fix our Diversity problem?  Inevitably, the business result trumps the need to fix Diversity.

But only because we see Diversity as a problem, not an opportunity.  Were the question to be framed differently, e.g. which result will be better for business in the longer term,  this would require weighing up two different business opportunities instead of an opportunity on the one hand and a fix to a societal problem on the other.  In other words, if you’re out to fix the Diversity problem, chances are you’re not going to do it.

The second problem with fixing the problem
All this is before we even take into account that people of different demographic backgrounds don’t want or need to be ‘fixed’.  They are not the ‘damsel in distress’ of fairy tales waiting to be rescued.  People from underrepresented backgrounds are just as brilliant, clever and capable  – and just as fallible, human and ambitious – as everyone else. They don’t want favours from others; they don’t want a high-handed version of what might be perceived as ‘White Saviourism’  from those in the dominant groups within their workplace; what they want is recognition that they add just as much (if not more) value as others.  And they want an equitable opportunity to prove it, to be given a chance to progress and develop, perhaps  through taking on a big project to build their experience, to help them be promoted into a leadership role.

Aiming to ‘fix it’ might be a step in the right direction, but it is a step early on the Diversity Journey Roadmap©.  Recognising there is a problem to be solved is a good start. What makes it even better is to understand how the business and all its people will benefit from improved Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Once the benefits are clear, it’s easier to get buy-in and bring genuine impact to your workplace’s Diversity strategy.

What Does Your Voice Say About You?

By Katie Davis

I grew up in rural Dorset, but I didn’t have what would be considered a stereotypical “west country” accent. My more neutral accent was primarily thanks to voice classes from an early age and an insistence from my mother that I speak “correctly”.

Aged 16, I found myself spending a year of Performing Arts education in the north, in Sunderland, but from the moment I stepped onto campus, I was deemed “posh” and potentially a snob because of the way I spoke.

In my first voice class, I sailed through what just happened to be Shakespeare, whilst my new peers “struggled” with their northern accents to get it sounding how the teacher, who was also from the north, wanted it to sound. Whilst I skipped through this class with ease, merely due to my accent, I felt a certain animosity from my peers; this made me uncomfortable and so I started emulating their accent, in order to fit in.

Pitching it right
We take it for granted that the voice we are presented with by a person is their natural voice, whereas it might in fact be created to maintain certain appearances. Whether we are conscious of it or not, there are many biases associated with the voice, not only a person’s accent but also something as minute as their pitch.

During a study conducted by the University of Stirling, it was discovered that people tend to change the pitch of their voice depending who they are talking to and how dominant they feel within the conversation:

“These changes in our speech may be conscious or unconscious but voice characteristics appear to be an important way to communicate social status. We found both men and women alter their pitch in response to people they think are dominant and prestigious.”

Other studies have also found that people with a deeper voice are considered more reliable and trustworthy. Here are two examples of people in the spotlight  who altered their voices to become more appealing to their listeners:

Liz Truss
Back in May of 2022, it was reported that the UK Foreign Secretary had been through vocal coaching, as she had lowered her voice, slowed down her delivery and improved her enunciation when delivering speeches. She was likened to Margaret Thatcher who had spoken in a similar manner and who was considered a hero to Truss.

A speech and language expert suggested that she had made these changes in her intonation, quality of voice and delivery because as a female in a position of power, she would potentially find it harder to be taken seriously and be able to lead in the way she wanted to. By lowering her voice, slowing her speech and increasing her volume, she could add more gravitas to her voice, so that no matter what she was saying, she would appear both confident and competent.

David Beckham
During his football career, the only thing that mattered was how many goals he could score for his team. However, towards the end of his professional football career, he opted to have elocution lessons.

He began to consider what his career would look like after he could no longer play professionally and he had been mocked in the past for his “rough” accent and the fairly high pitch of his voice. Therefore, he underwent intensive voice coaching to improve his accent and deepen his voice, because he believed it would get him more work when his sports career was over.

The voice for the job?
In the years since my performing days, I have maintained my normal voice, which has a naturally low tone, and when I went into teaching, I was even told that I was offered one job due to my voice and the accent with which I speak. I feel somewhat ashamed that I might have taken a role from someone more qualified than me, simply because of the way that I speak.

Overall, I believe I have been fortunate to have the voice and accent that I do, and it has often worked to my advantage, whether I was conscious of it or not. However, this does not mean that I agree with the bias against voices that we all have, however unconsciously.

We shouldn’t have to change ourselves, the way we look or sound, in order to attain the goals we set out for ourselves. Whilst many organisations are operating more inclusive recruitment processes, aiming to create more diverse teams by offering anonymous applications, does this extend to interviews, where people could still be judged for their appearances or the tone of their voice?

Are we doing enough?