Many businesses pay lip service to diversity. They may spend a lot of money on initiatives or attempting to fix the issues that arise out of not making it a priority. But, as we learned this year, it takes self-reflection, patience, empathy and considerable time to create a workforce that celebrates individuality.
To address those issues, as part of our inaugural READY Initiative, we at RAPP offered a training programme to young people who have experienced homelessness. We’ve now employed one of the programme’s trainees, and we’re helping another to secure a job in the creative industries.
The programme has taught us so much, but one key lesson we learnt was that diversity is a consequence of true inclusion; of safe workspaces which allow people to turn up as themselves. We have now committed to running our READY Initiative scheme every 15 months.
However, in the process we learned that fostering inclusivity is far more difficult than it might appear. It uncovered blind spots, unconscious bias, assumptions, prejudice, and even issues with our use of language around vulnerable people. We learned that fostering true inclusivity takes a lot of consideration, honesty and care, often in the face of looming deadlines.
Commercial benefits of inclusivity
But true inclusivity is worth it, because employees who feel comfortable make for a more productive workforce. Juliet Bourke, in her book ‘Which Two Heads Are Better Than One?’, found that organisations with inclusive cultures are two times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing and six times more likely to be innovative and agile.
Muniira, our first READY Initiative recruit, was recently at homeless charity Centrepoint for its 50th birthday celebrations. She met Prince William, who had come to the apprenticeship accommodation to learn first-hand how former homeless youngsters have been assisted into independent living. This charity supports over 9,000 homeless young people a year. While we can’t run our scheme for thousands, or at least not on our own, we like to think we changed the lives of those we signed up.
Beyond our four walls, the IPA recently teamed up with Unilever to promote inclusivity in adland with iList - a collaboration between the industry body and the FMCG giant, in partnership with Campaign, which aims to celebrate role models pushing the inclusivity agenda. This initiative sets out to shine a light on the benefits of inclusive leadership and culture. Leila Siddiqi, the IPA’s head of diversity, has said progress is still too slow.
Siddiqi is right, efforts must not be all talk. Consumers from all walks of life want to see themselves represented. This isn’t as simple as signing up to quotas.
Running the risks
If you just focus on diversity over and above true inclusion in the workplace, then your efforts risk a revolving door of talent or would-be talent. People will think “there aren’t people like me here”, or “nobody understands my point of view” and leave again. Diversity is a consequence of inclusivity. People must be able to turn up as themselves.
We want to offer a space where people feel safe. But this also takes time and sometimes difficult conversations. Occasionally, in order to accept an individual, you may need to change the way a team works.
For instance, to accommodate carers or single parents you may want to be more flexible than the ironically pretty rigid 'flexible working policies' we’ve all heard about. It’s a mindset that we need to focus on. It’s human behaviour and attitude. Yet, with gender pay gap data, currently, many industries have entered into a number-fixing race, which risks clouding the real issues and actually slowing progress.
Inclusivity is not I.T., you can’t outsource it. In order to make your organisation a place where all employees can flourish, leadership must be willing to be educated, to own mistakes, to build trust by listening to all the voices in the business - loud and little - and especially the uncomfortable.
Our company narrative focuses on highlighting the different, positive experiences that people from all backgrounds, identities, faiths and orientations bring. But my biggest take out from our last 18 months’ work on the READY Initiative is that to create and grow an inclusive culture, individuals need to be prepared to invest time and accommodate each other’s differences.
Al Mackie, chief creative officer, RAPP