Have we got Diversity wrong? Time for a rethink? Time for a rebrand?

After 16 months championing people with mental difference, launching a unique online diagnostic that uses psychometrics to validate how diverse groups feel and cope at work, hundreds of amazing conversations and conferences, and two general conferences last week alone that turned out to major on diversity, it’s time for me to get something off my chest!

Some of the leading campaigners and thought leaders on diversity, and some media I might add, have confirmed recently that we are just not moving the needle far enough on diversity!

But I believe we might be doing a little better than most people think but they just don’t know it! I also think with a slightly alternative and consolidated view people will recognise this, and the UK will have an opportunity to push on and lead the field.

I started to doubt we had diversity 100% correct a few years back when I was on an all-white male seminar panel and someone called it out on social media. Yes, it didn’t look diverse, but one of the panellists was an OAP, one was gay and one had a mental illness. So it was in fact, in my opinion, totally diverse. I’m tempted to say hidden diversity!

Recently, there has been a lot reported about all female shortlists and quotas, and this was raised on Wednesday at a roundtable event. Very positive feedback from everyone, including me, however, I did suggest this had risks because it could be seen and experienced as being exclusive by others, especially white middle aged males with a physical disability / mental health condition or another protective characteristic. Again, in my opinion, they represent diverse groups but just happen to also represent one of the groups at the centre of the inequality debate.

So is the problem people not understanding what diversity means, or how diverse their workforces actually are?

Is the problem too much silo focus on specific diversity group activity, potentially to the level that they compete for recognition and action from the exact same enablers of change, therefore leading to an inconsistent and weighted outcome?

I think it’s a combination of all, and the solution is to drastically simplify the subject and approach to raising awareness and championing difference!

And that word is the key in my opinion….. DIFFERENCE!

We need to simply accept that everyone is different, and it’s these differences that bring alternative ways of achieving things, lived in experience and better outcomes. These differences, and associated experience and skill sets, qualities and capabilities, need to be understood, embraced, celebrated, supported (sometimes with reasonable adjustments) harnessed and valued!

Simultaneously we need to encourage people to surface and celebrate their difference. If we can achieve both, we will have the optimum data set to match roles to the very best people based on their experience and skill set, qualities and capabilities.

Finally we need to accept that we are a product of our upbringing, relationships, life, experience, education etc. and all forms of bias are going to exist. Knowing this and tackling it in a positive and ‘in the moment way’ will reduce bias in the recruitment and employment process / experience.

So where do we start. I’ve seen a number of ‘head of diversity and inclusion’ roles advertised recently and a good start would be to rename these ‘head of difference’, with the brief to encourage people to surface and celebrate their difference, and business to provide knowledge, learning and case studies surrounding how different differences bring brilliance and optimal outcomes, plus take every step possible to educate the workforce about bias and how it’s a ‘barrier for best’.

Simultaneously businesses needs to accurately benchmark difference across their workforces, across all levels, to identify areas of critical focus. This is where anonymous surveying surrounding the categories of difference people fall into, plus how they feel and cope at work will provide the data to inform the optimum ‘difference strategy’.

Some will notice I used the word anonymous when I previously I suggested we needed more to celebrate their difference. Not everyone will do so initially, but in time I hope they will.

Society naturally needs to mirror this through parenting, community groups, Government and the education system etc. but that is the subject of another article!

I’m not suggesting this is going to be easy but we need to pull together and support a simplified collective cause which will be easier to consume, adopt and practice.

I would welcome your views.

Colin.