Conferences sow seeds of hope for diversity and inclusion

Last month I moderated three panels and presented a keynote in four different conferences and events. While each conference catered to a different market, the emerging theme was the state of diversity and inclusion today and tomorrow.

Since establishing Voice At The Table five years ago, I have observed a rising trend in events for women, events that talk about diversity and those that talk about inclusion. There has also been an increase in demand for these topics in conferences that do not focus strictly on people. It indicates the importance that society places on diversifying the way we run our businesses. This is also evidenced by the number of new positions that are being created and recruited for as diversity managers. So much so that we have added a new service to Voice At The Table (in collaboration with W2O Consulting & Training), offering training to D&I managers and consultants.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and any truly impactful solutions take a long time to produce visible and lasting results. The good news is that there are glimpses of hope that emanate from industry sectors that are particularly resistant to culture change.

Let me summarise this hope in three trends that I observed in my stint of conference appearances:

  1. Inclusive leadership is becoming a commonly used term of art that people understand and aspire to.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion is becoming a genuine concern for companies and there appears to be a genuine understanding for its benefits to business beyond the fairness element.
  3. Women are becoming more open to embracing men as part of the solution.


  1. Inclusive Leadership

In our evening panel event hosted by Withers LLP in early June, it became apparent that senior leadership doesn’t just understand the need for change but knows what that change should look like. Those who are collaborative, humble, communicative and empathetic will lead the next generation of talent. These leaders must lead by example and train middle managers and teams in this evolving art of inclusion.

  1. Diversity & Inclusion as a business imperative:

Two of the four conferences at which I spoke were industry events without a specific focus on diversity. So when I ran my panels, I was curious to find out how the audience perceived the importance of diversity for their businesses. I discovered that 70% of the audiences at both events considered diversity to be important for their organisations on business grounds and many of them already had started to address it internally. This may come as no surprise to most, but in my experience, there was a lot more talking about it than action, and this seems to be changing.   I continue to believe that most of the current initiatives are not sufficiently impactful to create lasting and meaningful change, but it’s certainly a positive development.

  1. Women embracing men as allies

When I started out, there was a lot of interest in ‘women only’ networks, events and training programmes. At the time, it seemed like the right solution to the dearth of women at the top. In recent years, there has been a lot more talk about engaging men as champions for women and opening up networks to everyone. This sat uncomfortably with me because it signalled a ‘knight in shining armour’ and ‘damsel in distress’ approach to gender balance. But I was pleased to observe at the Women in Finance conference that there is now greater recognition of the fact that men and women nowadays mostly want the same thing and that the changes that inclusion and belonging offer will benefit both men and women to break out of the moulds that society has imposed on us for centuries. Therein lies the real solution to gender balance, I believe, so this is a trend to cling to and explore further.

The move towards recognition of women and minority groups as equal and capable peers lies in the acknowledgment that each one of us has a unique value to add that we have not learned to tap into. Focusing on how we can do that is our winning formula.