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United Kingdom?: Why Inclusion & Acceptance Must Still Take Centre Stage

Few things have divided the people of Great Britain as starkly as the outcome of the EU referendum.  Whether one analyses the results by age group, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or region, it is hard not to recognise the typecasting that has rapidly emerged surrounding the profile of the Brexit voter and that of the Remain campaigner.  And, as reports of acts of racial intolerance take increasing prominence in the news since last week’s result, one has to ask the question … has diversity and inclusion in Great Britain been dealt the ultimate blow?

Some months ago, in the wake of the migrant crisis (a story which heavily dominated the headlines at the time), we posted a blog in which we challenged the view that migrants are a drain on our economy and society, and highlighted their contribution economically, socially and culturally. To access this content, please click here.

Last week one third of Leave voters (33%) gave ‘controlling immigration’ as their key reason for supporting Brexit.  With 53% of white British voters voting to Leave, versus 47% voting to Remain, the white vote almost identically mirrored the overall referendum result.  Yet within the non-white British community, the Leave / Remain split was far more pronounced, leaning heavily in the direction of staying in the EU. Two thirds of the Asian vote, and three quarters of the Black vote went towards Remain.  But, in the end, their voice was not strong enough to call it.

Leave or Remain aside, at great{with}talent, we are huge supporters of diversity. In business, diversity brings talent, opportunity, new perspectives, and cultural awareness.  It has gone way beyond box ticking and best practice compliance.  It has become a fundamental aspect of business strategy for most successful organisations, and it influences policies and practices on recruitment, ethical trading, supply chain, employee engagement and many other critical business processes.  And so far, we’ve yet to hear of, read about, or meet any employer who has regretted embedding diversity and inclusion into their organisational culture. That’s because it has a discernible positive impact on the bottom line, on employee engagement, on customer loyalty and on brand image.

The jury is still out on what will happen to those EU workers currently in the UK, once Article 50 is triggered, and Brexit start to takes effect.  With (at the time of writing) no actual plan in place for when or how this will happen, or at whose hand, the road ahead will be uncertain.  The current political situation has been likened by many to a divorce.  And like with most divorces, it is already getting bitter and expensive, and the process will be long and complicated.  Maybe it will end in a happily ever after; maybe it won’t. No-one (Brexiteer or otherwise) has charted these waters before, and so the impact on UK industry and on the average ‘immigrant’ worker remains to be seen. What we most certainly face is an intervening period in which migrant workers already contributing to the UK economy may feel marginalised and insecure about their future, and in which we are unlikely to attract new and potentially valuable skills from outside our borders.

Industries across the board not only survive, but thrive on the basis of their diversity, and face the double risk of losing existing talent to emigration, as well as missing out on future immigrant talent. But, to quote Stephen J Frost, ‘…more than that, the negative, anti-diversity noise around Brexit may actually damage the business case for diversity.’  Time will tell, but perhaps the message is that how we behave towards one another in the wake of the Brexit decision (whether we sit in the winning or the losing camp) may define and shape the culture we create for ourselves post Brexit. On the subject of Brexit and diversity, Stephen J Frost concludes that ‘if we don’t create and nurture a culture where an inclusive and diverse workforce is viewed in a positive light then the business benefits of diversity simply won’t follow.’

In the immediate aftermath and turmoil following the referendum results, there have been a few inevitabilities.  Flared tempers, finger pointing, typecasting, and, sad to say, even social unrest in the form of racist abuse and rioting. The media, and social media in particular, have played a big part in fuelling much of this sentiment on both sides, positing Brexiteers as bigoted, racist and small minded, or Leave campaigners as sore losers and alarmist in their outlook.  Eventually, the dust will settle, and we will steer a path through this, but, as we navigate our way along that path, we must not lose sight of the value of diversity, inclusion, and, above all, acceptance of our differences.

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