Tony Burnett, MD of Performance Through Inclusion, argues that without understanding the difference between the two concepts of diversity and inclusion, the problems over the next 10 years resulting from an ageing and shrinking UK population will not be solved.
Many people in positions of power and influence in society have no great difficulty in subscribing to the diversity principle.
It means judging and treating people on their real accomplishments, gifts, talents, words, and deeds - rather than accidents of race and birth, their genetic inheritance, acquired beliefs, accrued family wealth or the circumstances of their upbringing.
Applying these principles to match the specific organisational needs of a particular business is another matter.
Managers seem to find difficulty in making the step from a moral and intellectual acceptance of the ‘diversity’ principle to taking a genuinely ‘inclusive’ approach to the management of their organisation’s affairs.
In other words, they fail to see a difference between diversity, the stage where organisations aim to become more diverse by employing people from many different backgrounds, and inclusion - the stage where differences and values of each individual are truly recognised and allowed to flourish.
We are all legally bound not to discriminate against others in employment matters on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, physical disability and soon age. How many of us, hand on heart, can say that a single day of our lives passes without some fragment of a less enlightened attitude crossing our mind - or at least our path?
Acknowledging the intrinsic merit and inevitability of the diversity argument in a changing and shrinking world is straightforward enough. Applying it to issues like employment, recruitment, immigration, not to mention taxation, health
care and education - is a minefield of complexities. Over centuries, exclusion has become enshrined in the customs, language, administrative mechanisms and legal framework of most developed nations.
This must change.
However worthy and admirable the notion, the actual task of bridging the gap between token diversity and real inclusion remains monumental. We have to unravel generations of bigotry, prejudice and ignorance.
Paying lip service to diversity is largely a question of behavioural propriety; inclusiveness involves changing hearts, minds and methods. It’s about valuing the person behind the superficial stereotype. Quite another matter.
So what’s at stake?
The importance of becoming an inclusive organisation is clear, however the business case for becoming inclusive will depend on the particular organisation.
An inclusive organisation is a unified one. If people work within an organisation that they feel respects them and their individuality, then they are more likely to be loyal, less likely to move somewhere else. Inclusive organisations have high morale and this can have a huge impact on productivity also.
In addition to these internal reasons connected with human resource management, there are reasons for an organisation becoming inclusive that are linked to its external environment.
There are far too many to list here, but an inclusive organisation is in a far stronger position to impact business to business relations with suppliers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors and agents. It’s also able to leverage skills, experience and mental models in international environments, decrease its risks when entering new markets, and support effective new product development in international environments.
I’m happy to report that the green shoots of fully inclusive management are springing to life in quite a number of major business organisations, trade, professional and public bodies.
The diversity principle is well established and recognised, for example, in the NHS. Perhaps this is unsurprising, for an institution which began life by recruiting 24% of its medical professionals from territories that were formerly part of the British Empire - and which still relies on recruits from the Commonwealth and, more recently, Europe to continue its work.
We have, however, detected huge variations in the degree to which even some of the more enlightened healthcare trusts around the country fully include those of differing races, nationalities and backgrounds in the processes of management, change and development. The rates of change vary considerably, too. Clearly, some sectors are progressing much further and more rapidly towards inclusion than others.
Managers must recognise the importance for their organisation to become more diverse and inclusive. Putting aside all the internal and external issues mentioned already. The issue of a shrinking workforce highlighted briefly in the HGV example is crucial.
Within a decade-or-so, historic falling birth rates in the UK will cause an inexorable shift toward the recruitment of increasingly diverse workforces. By failing to take action in light of this fact they are ignoring one of the most critical elements in medium-term forward planning.
The proportion of workers outside what are now regarded as ‘normal’ age limits and gender stereotypes and recruits from other cultures is certain to increase progressively, as is the number of employees with disabilities.
Ethical and moral arguments aside, there is absolutely no doubt that if the large organisations, both public and private, on which we all depend, are to survive and prosper, not to say, grow), they will become increasingly reliant on employees from such minority groups. If the economy of this, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, is to be sustained and revitalised, the majority of the organisations of which it is comprised will come to rely much more heavily on the inclusion of minority groups to survive.
My belief is that full inclusion of these diverse groups is not an altruistic or politically correct option or fashionable foible, it is an inescapable imperative for any forward thinking management. Organisations that fail to put processes in to encourage, train, motivate and give responsibility to employees from minority groups will find themselves at a serious disadvantage in the years to come.