If you’re a CEO, a business owner, an MD or in any way playing an influential part in the organisation and industry in which you operate, there has never been a more crucial time to show your support for diversity and inclusion.

As a child, I used to watch Dr Who every Saturday night in the living room from the ‘safety zone’ (behind the sofa).  The very hint of a Dalek on the scene, and I’d leap for cover, hands over my eyes.  Yet I was compulsively drawn to the storyline.  Track forward to the present day, and, were it not completely unbefitting of a forty something year old, I’d be tempted to adopt the same approach to watching The News At Ten.  Between Trumpmerica, Brexit, and Boris Johnson’s bumbling attempts at foreign diplomacy, it is like watching some sort of foot-in-mouth diversity & inclusion ‘bloopers’ show.    Except it isn’t in the least bit funny.

While Trump flexes his muscles across the pond, and our government fumbles its way towards clarifying what ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually means in practice, a number of prominent business leaders are taking major issue with some of the divisive policies that are taking shape before their eyes. In response to some of the looming changes, those in influential and high profile positions within the commercial world are openly speaking out about the business case for diversity. It’s good (albeit a little ‘after the fact’) to finally hear the message coming from more of those who lead some of the most recognised global brands, such as Starbucks, Amazon, Expedia, Twitter and Nike.

But is enough being done.  Are enough people sticking their head above the parapet? And even then, are they enough of the right people?  Most importantly, could YOU do more?  No, no, no and yes – in that order. The point is; you don’t have to be running a huge global brand to be heard.  It helps, of course … but if more business leaders – not just the Goliaths, but the Davids, too – were to stand up and be counted, it would make for one loud collective voice in favour of promoting diversity and inclusion for the advancement of society and business alike.   And while the current wave of disruptive politics threatens to close borders, shut out vital talent, and limit the scope for embracing a diverse workforce (at least in terms of ethnicity), the time to speak up and the time to act is right now.  Passing the diversity buck to your HR department and hoping for the best just isn’t a strong enough tactic.

The business case for diversity has suddenly shot up the management agenda, especially in the US in the wake of Trump’s Immigration Ban (which, at the time of writing, remains in the hands of the American justice system), but also here in the UK where our commercial future remains far from clear.  Why? Because all of a sudden there is a very clear and present threat to business, in the form of closed immigration and trading borders, anticipated skills shortages (neither the USA in its current state of flux, nor post referendum Great Britain seem quite as attractive or accessible as they once were to our overseas talent), and talent drain (as, here in the UK, we face up to potentially losing non British Europeans with vital skills).  And so it is that the typical corporate stance on diversity has gone from ‘we ought to do our bit’ (for which read, ‘HR should stick up a few posters and run a few training sessions’) to ‘our business depends upon it’ (for which read, ‘it needs to be driven from the top and embedded in our culture and strategy’). It’s predictable – although a disappointing reflection – that it takes the threat of real, tangible business losses to bring people in positions of influence into a battle that would have been equally justifiably fought on moral grounds.  The moral argument, however strong, never has and never will get the average FD or MD to sit up and take notice.  Business is, after all, business – it is commercially driven, but rarely emotionally driven.  And, aside from the most philanthropic or ethically minded business leader, it generally takes hard facts and figures to drive them towards implementing meaningful or significant change.  Diversity campaigners have been saying it until they’re blue in the face: diversity means business.  Unwittingly, with the very threat of undermining ethnic and cultural diversity in the workplace, the current political scene has given this message new volume.

It’s not as if diversity and inclusion is a new thing. Phrases such as ‘equal opportunities’, ‘unconscious bias’, ‘stereotyping’ and ‘discrimination’ aren’t recent additions to the corporate lexicon. Whether only at the basic level (equal opportunities policies and compulsory training) or via more proactive efforts (the creation of Diversity Manager roles) every upstanding organisation in the land does its bit to ensure legal compliance, if not best practice.  And one doesn’t have to hunt to hard to uncover a plethora of events, seminars, webinars and conferences all devoted to a range of diversity focussed subjects, and designed to spread very valid messages and share great ideas for change and improvement.  The word has long since been out there for anyone prepared to hear it – diversity is better for business. Its just that, until now, those doing the talking, the listening, the discussing and the ideas sharing just weren’t necessarily always those equipped to empower and effect change back at the corporate coalface.  The converted have been preaching to one another in lecture theatres and focus groups, and on returning to the workplace full of renewed enthusiasm, they’ve, for the most part, been given a metaphorical pat on the head and told to run along and play quietly in the corner. Of course, it would be unfair to tarnish every business with the same brush; there are a few great examples out there of diversity and inclusion in practice.  But being great at diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be rare enough that it is newsworthy.  It shouldn’t be something that needs ‘highlighting’ through awards and recognition in order to push it up the agenda.  It should be about as ‘de rigeur’ as paying people on time, or providing safe environment for them to work in.   Because to not strive for it, to not deliver it, and to not aspire to achieve it isn’t just short sighted, it is a form of slow commercial suicide.  To quote Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs CEO), ‘being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be’.  Indeed, in his words, Trump’s Immigration Ban ‘has the potential to disrupt business at Goldman Sachs’.  Er, yes.  Not just at Goldman Sachs, we suspect!

Of course, the main thrust of the debate and discussion currently is around immigration and rights to work across borders.  (It’s not just about who will be afforded the right to work in Britain, either.  The impact of Brexit still remains unclear for the countless British people currently working in continental based roles).  But in recognising the value of ethnic diversity, there’s hope that, with eyes and ears now open to the general value of diversity in business, some of these key leaders will recognise that true diversity crosses religious borders and gender divides, knocks down age and health related barriers, opens minds towards sexual orientation and much more besides.

So, to the question – can YOU do more?  Yes you can.  First up, start talking about diversity.  It isn’t a dirty word.  Make it a prominent and valued part of your corporate language, and make it clear to all in your business that it is a supported concept.  Value all your people, value their contribution, and value their differences.  Beyond that, join the debate in your industry.  Talk to competitors and fellow business contacts about how diversity impacts your sector, and about how, collectively, you could promote greater inclusion by sharing ideas, creating initiatives and working together.

Secondly, don’t just talk about it.  Demonstrate your commitment to diversity by making it part of your company’s DNA – not just through words, but through actions and expectations.  But before you dive in, make sure you understand what diversity looks like in your organisation (what’s your organisational demographic), where it adds value (so that you can persuade the bean counters to take note and invest where necessary) and where the pockets of disengagement lie within your minority groups (so that you can fix the actual, rather than the perceived problems, with solutions that make a difference).  The trade off? Well, there’s doing the right thing, of course (rather than just thinking about doing the right thing).  But, there’s also the undeniable improvement it will make to your bottom line.  Valued and engaged employees are more productive, stay with your business longer and put in the kind of discretionary effort that delivers results beyond expectation.  And to limit that to just your white, middle class, able-bodied British passport holding male employees makes no business sense.  Not to us, anyway.

If shaping diversity in your organisation seems like a mountain to climb, or you just don’t know where and how to start, then great{with}diversity is here to support you.  We’ve developed a suite of D&I analytics that cover the full employment lifecycle, from the point of application and hire, through the employment journey to employee exit.  Our questionnaires provide an invaluable measure of how diversity pervades through your organisation and what that really means ‘at the coalface’. So, whether you’re seeking to get to grips with the overall diversity landscape in your business, or to gather feedback on specific issues, our consultancy team can tailor the design, delivery and reporting to your exact requirements.  Where you start and what that looks like is up to you.   When you’re ready to start the conversation, we’re right here.

Visit our website www.great{with}diversity.com for more information about our products and services.