Recent global events – specifically the COVID-19 pandemic – have left us reeling. We are only just beginning to feel the repercussions; socially, economically, and politically, and we still have no way of predicting the scope of the consequences further down the line.
But we can’t let our adherence to social isolation – the lockdown laws mandated for the protection of our health – to encourage exclusion. Now, more than ever, inclusion is what will save us. Opportunities may be few and far between, but talent is everywhere; without inclusive practices encouraging diversity, we will all miss out. The atmosphere of uncertainty caused by the pandemic threatens to hold us paralysed, so we have to work harder than ever to draw out all kinds of diverse talent.
This sense of paralysis and urge to defend ourselves or exclude others is not only triggered by the COVID-19 virus. We’ve seen it in our work with organisations time and time again. When we’re attacked – or feel we’re being attacked – we often go on the defensive. For example, if someone challenges our thinking in a meeting or suggests a solution we haven’t considered before, or when a colleague offers us feedback our knee-jerk reaction might be to disagree or to ignore or exclude those views. Fight or flight, in those circumstances, works against us and shuts us off from potentially great opportunities to improve our outcomes.
We can unlock some of that value, simply by taking the time to:
- Pause before instinctively rejecting people or ideas who seem ‘different’
- Reflect on what we want to achieve
- Discuss how this diversity might help and how best to integrate it into our plans.
Taking these steps before acting in a better informed and more inclusive way is good for organisations as well as individuals. Saying good morning and having a warm atmosphere in the office isn’t enough, and it’s even harder to create in a virtual environment. Real inclusion has purpose, an outcome-focused approach and is achieved through a set of active behaviours.
Years of studies have shown that companies that value and practice inclusion have higher returns on investment. Companies with stronger gender and ethnic diversity are 15% and 35% more likely to outperform their competitors (McKinsey).
To run a good business, we have to understand that both the benefits and challenges diversity creates are a natural part of running one. Organisations who are authentic in embracing inclusion, need to ask themselves these straightforward questions:
- What types of diversity might affect the outcomes we are trying to achieve?
- What potential opportunities do diversity and inclusive practices create for this organisation?
- Can we attract talent from demographic groups others are not yet considering?
- Do our leaders manage the impact of diversity skilfully and confidently? Are they achieving equally high levels of engagement from each individual in their team?
- Do we have a true understanding backed up by data showing how our organisation is being affected by diversity?
- Have we built a methodology in our business which takes diversity into account? For example, do we use a multicultural team to ensure our marketing and branding activities are equally effective across all markets?
Inclusion helps make an organisation more resilient during change. The levels of uncertainty we face now demand that we interrogate how diversity will impact the delivery of results. Companies must act with intention, not just aspiration. Those organisations who are truly inclusive will be able to unlock great talent and create a bit of much-needed stability. Talent is everywhere. As we begin moving beyond lockdown, we have to ensure we’re doing all we can to champion it.