Man in the mirror

I never thought there would come a day when I would begin an article by quoting a Michael Jackson song, but I’ve been humming it for days and now it’s your turn to go silently mad when you can’t get Man In The Mirror out of your head: ‘I’m starting with the man in the mirror / I’m asking him to change his ways’.

There is method in my madness. You see, without realising it, Jackson was a trailblazer for something multi-billion pound companies the world over are beginning to realise the value of. Sure, he had a catchy chorus and a pet monkey, and some pretty natty white socks, but that was all a front for the real deal – The King of Pop was urging us all to drive innovation through a diverse workforce.

Honestly, stay with me on this one.

Let’s start with the man in the mirror; what do you see? Do your colleagues all look like you? Or does your company fairly and brilliantly represent the spectrum of differences we little humans bring into the office every day, be it our gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, background, education? Maybe you’ve never thought about it. Maybe, looking in the mirror in your office toilets, you are forced to think about it every single day.

We should all think about diversity, not just because it is good for us to do, but because it is good for business. There is a simple and compelling truth: the rapid globalisation of business means companies must continually strive to find the edge that helps them create new products and services, and the best way to generate new ideas is through a diverse and inclusive workforce.

The conversation has rapidly shifted in the years since ‘equal opportunity’ became the lingua franca amongst HR professionals and panicked CEOs.

It’s no longer just about your recruitment practices – which diverse individuals you bring into the workplace – but what you do with them when they’re there; how you include them.

Just as businesses increasingly recognise the need for sustainable practices to fit lock-step with corporate development, so too can they see the value in diversity and inclusion programmes – two sides of the same coin – which connect back to the business plan by driving talent, performance, innovation and new wins.

In 2011, Forbes Insight conducted a global survey of more than 300 businesses turning over a minimum of $500 million, and some with revenues of more than $20 billion – Forbes sought to understand from their research what the business case for diversity and inclusion truly is. The results speak for themselves: ‘Diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale.’ There are some standout examples. Like Mattel’s admission that, thanks to diverse Employee Research Groups, they have avoided embarrassing and costly mistakes; or that Intel have seen a direct correlation between their diverse workforce and a boost in productivity; or that amongst companies with the largest revenues, $10 billion and above, the majority strongly agree that diversity drives innovation.

Let’s take gender as a case in point – despite the fact that women perform 66% of the world’s work and own roughly 40% of all private businesses in the formal economy, amongst the Fortune 500 companies women hold only 3% of CEO positions, and 15% of board seats. And yet we know – the facts are resoundingly loud and clear – that companies with more women on their boards outperform their rivals, with a 42% higher return in sales and 66% higher return on invested capital.

That’s because women in senior leadership aren’t just in the office, they’re in the roles where they can innovate and make decisions – roles which make the greatest difference to business performance.

So why, with the overwhelming majority of businesses stating they have diversity programmes in place, is inclusion happening at a glacial pace?

There are a couple of oft-cited barriers, like inadequate attention from senior leadership or budget restraints, but the no-brainer is the casual failure to recognise the connection between diversity and business drivers. May we paint the message in letters a mile high and sing it from the rooftops – DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS.

You can have that one for free.

Like most triggers for change, it starts with the individual. There is a theory around unconscious bias, where people attract and appoint people in their own image – and because it’s unconscious, it takes that much more focus and effort to right the wrongs.

A Deloitte chairman recently wrote of his admission that he has been at fault on this, and is putting in place personal and organisational changes to counter the problem.

So, just like Michael Jackson sang, we all need to start with the man in the mirror to make a change.

We need more people from varied backgrounds in our teams – not because those individuals can speak for women, or ethnic minorities, or older workers, but because they may speak for us all. The companies who mean business about diversity, know that diversity means business.

All together now, “If you wanna make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change.”

My piece first ran on virgin.com

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