Diversity – are we really maximising this great opportunity?

The start of the new year does seem to have brought an air of calm amongst us, finally some degree of certainty and regardless of whether this is unfounded or misplaced – as let’s be fair, some of the details of our way forward are a paler shade of grey, but despite this, we all seem to be sighing a slight sigh of relief.

It has been a long 3 odd years of turmoil, divided opinions which have often divided families and segregated friends, it has resulted in hardship for many businesses who had little choice but to hang on and ride the proverbial storm. It has pushed some leaders and their teams to make difficult decisions and shown the best and sometimes the worst of things. The one true thing which has been the constant in all of this is the recognition that we are all so different, so diverse and that despite this often being inconvenient, it is definitely powerful and should not be underestimated.

So why is diversity a strength? The world is changing at speed and this is something we not only know but know that we cannot avoid. Businesses are stretched, margins are tight, costs are up and yet in this pressured environment the absolute necessity to build strong teams, to constantly innovate and to create value is as essential if not more than it has ever been.

How do we balance all of these plates successfully? We look within. Study after study has shown that diverse teams, not only in gender or race but also in background and mindset lead to a better culture, more creative teams improved productivity and retention and obviously has a positive impact on companies bottom line. According to McKinsey, companies who rank in the top quartile of executive board diversity are in the region of 35% more likely to financially outperform the competition and that inclusive teams make better decisions around 87% of the time.

Diversity is an action, inclusivity is cultural, belonging is a feeling and when we actively embrace and intentionally invest all 3, the results can be inspirational.

But diversity has to be an action. Without the feeling of true belonging or embracing and actively seeking out different mindsets and backgrounds, diversity is merely a feel-good box-ticking exercise. Too many board rooms, leadership teams and offices are made up of the same kind of people and it is fair to understand that it is easier to surround ourselves with people like ourselves to just get on with it – but is it right and does it make use of the genuine advantage which diversity can bring? We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable as true diversity is not easy and to really maximise the innovation, growth, culture and success which true diversity can bring to any organisation it must be intentional, patient, honest and actively promoted.

So how do we truly embrace this opportunity which exists in all businesses? We broaden our thinking, we take time to bring people together and get to know them, we encourage talent and free up thinking, we create opportunities and we make people feel valued, we embrace failure and lead with empathy, we give people a voice and most importantly we listen.

Our history shows that a true feeling of belonging is all that many are seeking, a cultural fit regardless of one’s place of birth, a place to grow and add value, to know that they are valued and invested in. Diversity is an action, inclusivity is cultural and belonging is a feeling and when we actively embrace and intentionally invest all 3, the results can be inspirational.