Is the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda having its ‘climate change’ moment?

Wednesday, 4th March 2020

Following the launch of pro-manchester’s new report, Rupert Cornford explores how people’s attitudes to equality compare to global warming

Workplace equality requires business leaders to move beyond what they know, their direct experience, and often their assumptions about the world. For some people, this frontier will be the difference between business success or failure; for others, they’ve heard about it, but are choosing to look the other way. It sounds very similar to climate change.

The drive to create fairer workplaces, which are more representative of the world we live in, has made great strides in recent years. The business case has persistently shown that a diverse workforce, coupled with inclusive behaviour, helps make more money and better products and services. People from protected groups and the wider population feel more supported.

But it’s clear that our biases, groupthink and fear of tackling this challenge are getting in the way of progress. pro-manchester’s research and panel event on equality, diversity and inclusion at the end of February, highlighted what many people know, but push to the back of their minds:

  • Discrimination is still a big problem in Greater Manchester workplaces.
  • People are confused about what diversity and inclusion mean and its impact. A lot of employees have never heard these ideas spoken about or been offered any training.
  • Major challenges exist for women returning to work after having children; and the money they earn compared to male colleagues is still making headlines for the wrong reasons.

But it’s not enough to say: ‘I didn’t mean it, it was just banter’, anymore; it’s not enough to claim you don’t know where to start, or that equal pay is complex: silence on this topic is costing companies tenders, business opportunities and valuable talent.

Some people believe this agenda is in danger of going too far and over-compensating. If we could just raise our emotional intelligence by one percent and treat each other a bit better, they argue that would be enough.

But this story goes much deeper than our relationships; it comes down to the fact that we don’t really know what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes. The same shoes that will be responsible for delivering business objectives, growth and innovation in a world that is changing.

If leaders don’t work hard to overcome bias, ask questions, and draw on other people’s perspectives, they will miss out on new thinking and problem-solving skills for the future.

Here are the key messages our panel wanted everyone to hear about moving forward:

  • It’s about ownership. We are individually and collectively responsible for change.
  • If you give yourself the knowledge you don’t know everything, you should ask people what they think. If you do that, and encourage others to do that, then you will become more inclusive.
  • Encourage challenge, celebrate success, and don’t be afraid to call out bad behaviour.
  • People think diversity and inclusion costs a lot of money. There are lots of things you can do that are simple and make a big difference.
  • Start where you stand, don’t wait for perfection – it doesn’t exist. Start small but be bold and courageous. You will get things wrong, but that’s part of the process.

Like climate change, this challenge does feel very big, but there are myriad steps that can be taken. Whether you buy into the evidence or not, there is an increasing number of voices hailing equality, diversity and inclusion as central to future business success.

So, does it make sense to protect your business now, or watch it get swept away by the floods of inequality in future?

To read pro-manchester’s report – The importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in Greater Manchester workplaces – which will help you understand more about creating an equal workplace, click here to read a printer friendly version, or here for the digital version.

Thank you our panelists Mark Fletcher, chief executive at Manchester Pride; Ian Hopkins, chief constable at Greater Manchester Police; Sharon Amesu, leadership consultant and IoD Manchester chair; Erica Ingham, chief financial officer at MediaCom North; and Clare Mulligan-Foster, business psychologist at CMC Business Psychology.