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?