What’s more persuasive that the business case?

By Inge Woudstra

We all know how valuable it is to have a wide range of insights, different perspectives, new ideas. Or do we?

Diversity sounds great on paper, and its benefits seem undeniable. The reality however is that – despite all the evidence – we tend to prefer to hire, work with and ask advice from people like us. People we trust instinctively, or simply people we know. Increasingly, we at Voice At The Table are asked by clients to work with middle managers to help them see the value that gender diversity brings to them and their teams.

We start by sharing the facts: The numbers from McKinsey about increased profitability. The numbers from Credit Suisse on Return on Investment. The numbers from Harvard Business Review on how diverse teams are smarter. Research by the Centre for Talent Innovation, showing the link between diversity and innovation.  Or the research from Glassdoor on how the best people value working in a diverse team and an inclusive company.

However, facts alone don’t seem to lead to change. They don’t quite resonate.

So, how can we show people the value of difference? 

We find that stories are infinitely more impactful than numbers. They resonate more deeply, and stick in people’s minds. They show people what valuing difference feels like, and give them inspiration for how difference might benefit them and their team.

For this reason, I would like to share some of the stories I use to illustrate to clients the value that a different approach brings.

  1.      Better decisions by the Board

A chairman told me, ‘I invited a woman onto our board and was grateful when she accepted. The way our meetings run has really changed. We used to hammer through decisions quickly. However, she asks more questions, and brings in different ways of looking at the issue. We now have more discussions, and our meetings are longer. I know we are making better, more robust decisions.’

  1.      Better results and a more open work culture in a leadership team

A senior manager shared, ‘I was appointed to a new team as senior manager. My company is really pushing diversity, so 3 of my 8 direct reports are female. In our industry that is highly unusual, and it is the first time I have worked with such a mixed-gender team.  I admit that I was sceptical. However, I have found that women tend to be more open about issues than men. This has really changed the conversations in the team, and now we are all more open about looking at issues together and jointly finding solutions. I am convinced it gives us better results, and it’s more enjoyable to work like that too! No matter how many times they tell you that difference brings value, you have to experience it.’

  1.      Increased productivity and fun in a team

A CEO shared, ‘I am dedicated to diversity. It’s because in the first years of my career I worked in a very diverse team. We had an equal number of men and women and a wide range of nationalities. It was fun to work in the team and it was by far the most productive team I have ever worked in. Wherever I have managed a team after that, I have tried to bring in diversity and have seen similar results. It’s the only way I want to work now.’

  1.      Better engagement and higher scores in a panel debate

An event organiser told us, ‘We were organising an event on diversity and inclusion. I realised all our speakers were white, middle-aged women. Great experts I really trusted, but it didn’t look good. So we extended our feelers, put in more effort and ended up with a very diverse panel: a Black man, a young Asian woman, a gay man and a white woman. Personally, I wasn’t certain about the quality of the speakers as I didn’t know them very well. I hadn’t seen them speak before and they didn’t have the same level of in-depth expertise as our other speakers. When going through the feedback forms at the end of the day I was astonished to find our most diverse panel had the highest scores of all our sessions. The audience had loved the variety of views and the lively debate. Difference really does bring value.’

It follows that if you are looking to create more commitment to diversity and inclusion in your organisation, you should share your stories. Connect with colleagues and gather their stories. It can also be very powerful to get some of your senior managers to share how they have experienced working in a diverse and inclusive team in a fireside chat, a panel interview, or a talk.

Would you like help to gain commitment from middle and senior managers? Do get in touch, we are always happy to have a conversation and offer support.