The value that diversity and inclusion brings to businesses today is undeniable. BCG research showing companies with above-average diversity on their management teams report 19% higher innovation revenue is only one such example in a growing body of work to support this and shows that more diverse and inclusive teams drive innovation and improve performance.
Why wouldn’t businesses want that level of advantage? The issue then becomes about making it more than a metric in formalised HR structures and processes, or considering it an HR or CSI concern.
Ensuring adequate representation at boardroom tables and in decision-making processes needs to be an issue that is addressed across all levels of an organisation, where biases are challenged by individuals who are brave and bold enough to speak out as and where they see them happen. One of my favourite quotes is from Iyanla Vanzant: ‘call a thing a thing’ – and it resonates because we can only address an issue if it is known and called what it is. This then provides an opportunity to turn the challenging of biases into moments of truth, reflection and learning.
There is still a long way to go, and not only in South Africa. There are countless case studies globally of brands who have gotten it wrong, and the inevitable question is who the decision-makers were. It is easy to solve that problem: make sure there are people at the table who do not look or sound the same. And then make sure those different voices are included and heard in the decision-making process.
The first step is understanding that diversity is about difference – and that this difference extends beyond more than gender, race or ethnicity. It also includes diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and even disabilities.
Enabling meaningful participation in a broad range of people and perspectives
It is essential to have a broad range of people bringing diverse points of view together to drive creative problem-solving. Homogenous teams simply cannot do that because they do not have an appreciation or deep understanding around the context and culture in which the organisation is operating when solving problems.
Diversity in how teams are made up is only the beginning, however. The next, even more critical, step is consciously making space and creating opportunities for this broad range of people to participate meaningfully and have their voices included.
This is where business leaders come in. Businesses need forward-thinking leaders who actively invite and enable participation, and help make people feel that their ideas and voices are valued, valuable and heard. When I facilitate meetings, for example, I use a technique where the most senior person in the room speaks last to let younger, more inexperienced employees share their ideas. Leaders need to consciously create methods that encourage and enable purposeful participation.
As more people in the workplace see these methods being introduced – even if some of them do not necessarily work – and see their ideas being adopted and voices heard, the more encouraged they will be to share, and feel enabled to do their best work.
These changes need to start being made immediately. We need business leaders who think about and question if they have enough people who don’t look or sound like them around them – and then start making the change instantly if they don’t, rather than setting it as an organisational target to achieve by 2030. Only then will we start seeing tangible change, and see diversity and inclusion become an inherent part of doing business.
Nontokozo Madonsela is group chief marketing officer for Momentum Metropolitan. She has specialised in marketing and brand strategy, creative development process, delivery of brand and corporate identity and strategic execution of advertising and marketing campaigns during her over 20 years of experience in brands and marketing.
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