The CIA learned the need for a diverse workplace the hard way. On September 11, 2001, America experienced its worst terrorist attack on US soil. In the years that followed 9/11, a frequently-asked question was how the Central Intelligence Agency, whose mission it is to gather and share intelligence in order to pre-empt threats and protect the US, was blinkered to such an extent that it just didn’t see this coming.
The answer offered in Matthew Syed’s bestselling book Rebel Ideas, is that the CIA lacked the Diversity it needed to gather the right evidence and interpret it well enough to appreciate the level of threat presented by Osama Bin Laden. This was a mistake that could arguably have been avoided, had the CIA fully grasped the advantages of a more diverse workforce to the agency and to its efficacy.
The clear understanding of how Diversity helps an organisation achieve its specific goals is the most important aspect of establishing a successful EDI strategy.
So how do we tease out these specific benefits?
In order to understand how Diversity will help a particular company we work with, the first question I ask leaders is why they want to have greater Diversity. What is driving this aim?
The answers I get vary from It’s the right thing to do, to We want to treat all our employees fairly, and from We want to better reflect our client base, to We understand that our business will improve if we become more diverse.
All valid reasons. But also very broad and general.
None of these given reasons identifies the specific benefits that EDI will bring to their individual organisation, because none of them answers the more pertinent questions, such as:
- What is the business problem that Diversity will address?
- What is the opportunity Diversity will open up for the business?
- What specific benefits do they want to achieve from becoming more diverse?
For the CIA, the benefit of Diversity (including the risks arising from its absence) is clear: having more people from different backgrounds and experiences improves the rate of precision in interpreting gathered intelligence.
What are the key benefits that Diversity will afford your company?
- Link EDI to your business mission
To answer these questions, it helps to connect the benefits derived from Diversity to the overall business mission and/or vision of the organisation.
In my last blog, I quoted Google’s EDI statement, which makes reference to its business mission and explains how EDI helps Google achieve it. In understanding the particular benefit that Google derives as a business from Diversity, it has elevated EDI to the level of a strategic business matter. By doing this, Google has also motivated its leadership to take EDI personally and to treat it like any other serious business challenge.
Similarly, Amazon’s EDI Statement refers to its mission to be the earth’s most customer-centric company and goes on to explain how EDI supports that. In summary, Amazon’s diverse and inclusive teams positively impact their products and services, and help improve relations with stakeholders including customers, partners, content creators and employees. In other words, Diversity helps the company deliver on its aim to become more customer-centric by better reflecting and therefore understanding their customers, and by being able to meet their diverse requirements.
How can you link Diversity to your own business mission?
Understanding how EDI benefits your specific company is crucial. To make meaningful progress on EDI requires leadership engagement, significant budget and other resources. It also involves a lot of time and effort. It’s a long and difficult journey that should be embraced with the same vigour and commitment as a strategic business decision. To ensure efforts deliver the desired impact, it is crucial to define them in the same business terms as any other strategic business decision. Anything less will not create the level of commitment and rigour necessary to deliver the requisite impact and results.