Ben writes: On 16 June 2017 I had the pleasure of speaking on behalf of IP Inclusive to people from across the business at Urquhart-Dykes & Lord. UDL are IP Inclusive charter signatories and had invited a speaker from the IP Inclusive taskforce to talk to them at their annual conference about the work we do and how UDL could get involved.
The event provided a valuable opportunity to have a big conversation about why diversity and inclusion (D&I) is good for business – as well as being the right thing to do. It was also an opportunity to make sweeping assumptions, challenge them, and think about how – and why – to mitigate the consequences of unconscious bias in everything we do.
After an introduction to IP Inclusive and a recap of our recent achievements, I asked the conference delegates to think of as many differentiating characteristics – diversity categories if you like – as they could.
Interestingly the feedback moved rapidly on from protected characteristics and visually apparent differences, to things like educational background, ideological beliefs and values, culture, cognitive preferences and sources of motivation. Within the workplace, people were talking about length of service, seniority and working patterns. Outside work we talked about friendships, community ties and preferences for living environments.
We then reflected on these differences and how they can potentially benefit business performance and competitive advantage. How, by making the most of them, organisations can empower people to be themselves and do their best.
For example, we identified six ways in which engaging with diversity and embracing inclusivity could help business thrive in challenging situations:
- Employers who are used to managing diversity well will be able to more quickly and effectively integrate staff into the organisation.
- An inclusive approach to recruitment and retention will broaden the pool of potential talent and enhance the organisation’s appeal to prospective job applicants.
- Businesses with broad demographic and international reach will benefit from the increased insight, sensitivity and awareness a diverse work force can share.
- Research corroborates cognitive, behavioural and experiential diversity with increased creativity and productivity.
- Heterogeneous teams provide new ways of thinking and greater innovation.
- Organisations used to dealing with difference and change can respond more flexibly to external and environmental changes.
Finally we thought about what we can individually do to contribute to collectively improving inclusivity within our networks and organisations. I challenged the delegates to give their views on some of my defining characteristics. This session ran a bit like character-based version of the children’s game “Guess Who?” and (depending on who shouted loudest) could have resulted in me being labelled an Eton-educated gay Welshman with three children and a wife. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but the fact that there was basis for assigning me these labels was the point I was making. Assumptions, or the fear of assumptions, can lead people to hide who they are for fear of the consequences. Whilst it is important to respect privacy and preferences, it is equally important for people to feel able to be themselves and not spend time and energy unnecessarily hiding details, for example of their family, beliefs or caring responsibilities.
What can we do about it? Recognise our unconscious biases (we all have them), refrain from making assumptions (we all do it – human beings love patterns), and do our best to ensure openness, fairness and objectivity despite them.
What next? Well Andrea Brewster has wasted no time in pulling together two working groups within IP Inclusive to explore how to develop and share best practices to deal with unconscious bias and how to make the most of the business case for D&I. We meet in November. Watch this space for information about seminars on these topics…
Thank you Ben, for writing this blog. Thanks also to UDL for putting D&I on the agenda of their annual staff meeting!
If you would like to write a blog article for IP Inclusive, on anything diversity related, please email Emily Teesdale of Abel & Imray. Guest bloggers are always very welcome!