Diversity – A Worthy Goal Worth Pursuing

Diversity makes us all better off. June Sarpong proposes eight goals to make it happen.

The United Kingdom is by definition a mixture of nations, cultures and peoples. Diversity is what we do it’s on the tin and in our DNA! Our desire to access the people, goods and services we need regardless of natural or manmade boundaries has led us to become a global trading nation with a society that has attracted individuals from all over the world, thus creating the multicultural melting pot we pride ourselves on. However, the inclusivity that is needed to make diverse societies function effectively is not always evident either by statistics or if we are honest in our daily experiences.

25% of British workers have experienced discrimination in the workplace, with one in three under-25s believing a "glass ceiling" still exists preventing them from progressing.

Business leaders must ask themselves how far do the statistics reflect their own experiences? And if so as a leader, is this one of the workplace culture challenges you have tried to address?

Of course, the workplace is reflective of the challenges we society faces in general, so for a lot of us tasked with delivering diversity and inclusion it can feel like paddling upstream. However, our workplaces even more so than our classrooms (which can be impeded due to religious preference, gender selection, parental social class or local demography) are where the diversity of the country comes together and can be where we get things right. For many of us the workplace is where we spend the majority of our time and will be the only time that we have regular contact with “the other”: someone who may be different to ourselves on account of their culture, background, gender, class, sexual orientation and mental or physical ability. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for CEO’s to impart positive change for wider society where politicians have failed.

Failing to make Britain more inclusive and equal has historically delivered costly results, from the damage during the suffragette protests and the industrial strikes of the last century to the rejection of the EU more recently.

Conversely, success in achieving diversity and inclusion rather than resulting in costs actually delivers benefits to our workplaces and ultimately to the UK economy. The data is in and it’s conclusive. Businesses and organisations with diverse teams perform better due to the range of skillsets, experience and ways of thinking available. Mckinsey’s “Delivering through Diversity” report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic and cultural diversity, the 2014 finding was a 35 percent likelihood of outperformance.

This is of course good for the bottom line, but the benefits don’t stop there.

Fortunately, we don’t need to go through the conflict that our forebears had to go through to achieve inclusion, we have the tools before us to achieve this in a much more benign fashion. In recognition of the benefits that diversity can bring many companies whole industry sectors have invested in initiatives to help improve diversity and social mobility. To cite a couple, Access Accountancy and Prime Commitment which both seek to attract talent from less affluent backgrounds into careers in professional services and law respectively, through offering work experience to sixth form students. This is important because not only do young people from less affluent backgrounds become more familiar with the culture of the workplace making them more adaptable in future but for employers it provides them access to talent from groups that may be underrepresented in the employer’s current catchment pool.

Employees who engage in these programmes also become more familiar with the untapped talents of people from outside the usual elite talent pools. This in turn has the knock-on effect of making the workplace culture more welcoming of diversity.

Admittedly most of us do feel comfortable with who and what we already know and understand so we can offer employee engagement activities in order to help existing employees feel more comfortable with diversity. Encouraging staff to take part in volunteering initiatives such as mentoring or visiting a specialist school or a community organisation working with underrepresented groups in a company or organisation.

In terms of the actual practicalities of acquiring and progressing diverse talent through the ranks of our companies and organisations we actually have ability to do that also if we also have the will to recognise and address unnecessary bias in our HR and talent processes. For example, many employers are offering alternative, non-graduate entry routes to careers in recognition that not every role requires a degree especially when the degree classification and institution are taken into account over the actual degree studied. Further employers that only recruit graduates with a 2:1 or above from a Russell Group University will continue to lack a wide range of skillsets and experience in their talent pool. There are of course less culturally bias ways to assess a candidate’s suitability for a role other than grades and where they studied. Use of assessment centre exercises to account for various learning styles and skillset so incorporating presentations, role play and practical exercises with traditional verbal and numerical reasoning exercises.

We can also ensure that our existing systems are not impacted by existing inequities as we move towards inclusion. This means that all new starters have access to the same induction and mentoring / buddying opportunities. Any employee benefits must not have awarded in a discriminatory fashion i.e. parental leave, sabbaticals etc. And of course, complaints, disciplinary procedures are applied fairly and objectively.

I fully appreciate that often how much we are able to achieve as agents of change is subject to the willingness of colleagues in positions of influence to really embrace diversity over the familiar and status quo. We see this often in the workplace with the failure to recruit, retain and promote those who are not white, male, middle class, middle aged and straight. The counter argument that we employ the best talent from the best universities in the world and that the rigorous recruitment and progression requirements are the fuel behind success and productivity. So why should we change?

Well the status quo will not deliver the results we require other than the familiar disappointing statistics. Having the usual individuals around the table usually means they tend to self-select people like themselves with the same thought processes and therefore continue to come up with the same answers missing out on alternative solutions. These are some of the themes I tackle in Diversify through highlighting the need to colleagues to openly and honestly engage in a debate around the problems and solutions to creating inclusive workplaces of the future. This is something that all leaders and managers should do, regularly bring together different perspectives on how to authentically engage, promote and thus retain diverse talent.

As business leaders, we rely on you to champion the cause so we get to the more inclusive society that we need in order to fully thrive as a country. We need you press for change in your own teams, departments and organisations because we are actually wasting the talents of diverse individuals with different experiences and skillsets that will be invaluable in terms of solving complex problems that impact our workplaces, cities and country. We will not solve these problems unless we diversify the individuals around the decision-making table and business can lead the way for society as a whole.

However, we can’t solely rely on business to solve this complex issue, our politicians need to step up too. The 2017 Lammy Report by the British MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, found that Black people were more likely to be discriminated against in the criminal justice system. The following year’s Race Disparity Audit by the UK government revealed the large gulf between the pay and progression levels of Black and minority ethnic employees and that of white employees in the public sector.

As disappointing as these headlines are, they speak to a reality that is all too familiar to some sections of our society. As a Black person, the fact that our criminal justice system discriminates against you and people of your skin colour or that your opportunities to progress in public sector career are limited are not a shocking revelation to me. You might just have well reported that the sky is blue and following a thorough review of UK grass findings indicate that it is green. These “findings” are not news but simply reality and the real news that should be the fact that no real solutions were offered by the government in terms of to address these issues.

Granted, the Prime Minister was fighting for her political future trying to mitigate the fallout from Brexit in her ranks whilst trying to get a deal from the EU that wouldn’t cripple the UK economy. Politicians and pundits alike have spoken about our divided society and the many fault lines that divide us. If we want to be a United Kingdom rather than a divided one along ethnic, gender, generational and many other lines then we need to deal with diversity or rather the lack of it. The lack of diversity at all levels and in all sectors, has caused this disconnect that has allowed the tragedy at Grenfell, extremist views and for Brexit to occur and be such a shock to the elite.

Progressives need a clear agenda that they are championing and must find ways to work with politicians of all party persuasions to deliver results for a more inclusive society. My personal appeal to whoever takes over from Theresa May is this: Make diversity your legacy! When you are in Number 10, you have the opportunity to secure a legacy as previous Tory Prime Ministers have done. Margret Thatcher saved the Falklands and ushered in the “Free Market”, John Major began the peace process in Northern Island and David Cameron championed same-sex marriage.

The new Prime Minister can set a course taking bold action with regards to our diversity challenges. Theresa May has made positive strides in this area already. She indicated her desire to deal with inequality and diversity issues in her “On your side speech” she also took the Met to task on their use of stop and search as Home Secretary which was reduced by 28% under her supervision. Now is the chance for a new Prime Minister to show real leadership.

So, what does Bold look like? Well for starters I would like to see clear goals and targets with an achievement deadline, just as the UN has its Sustainable Development Goals the UK needs it’s own Diversity Inclusion Goals. To those who have an aversion to Goals and targets, we had a target to get net migration down to tens of thousands which seemed to be popular even if unrealistic. Let us now have some realistic goals and targets about how we enable all of our citizens to contribute to the best of their ability. Here are some of my suggestions for Diversity Inclusion Goals.

The DIG’s

1. To ensure that all public-sector employers reflect that diversity of the society they serve using recruitment methods appropriate to the task.

2. To imbed training explaining the benefits of and the case for diversity within state, private and higher education as well as within the workplace.

3. To build diverse communities where social and private housing are built side by side with comparable safety.

4. To provide all children with access to schools that reflect the diversity of the society they will one day contribute to.

5. To attribute greater status to home making and childrearing activity through accreditation and making this an option available to all genders.

6. To extend suffrage to 16-year olds with greater opportunity for civic and political participation for young people.

7. To ensure that every facility and resource available to able bodied individuals is also accessible to people with disabilities.

8. To promote cross faith activities and practices in state funded places of worship

These may seem simplistic to some, but sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective. No more talking about the problem without offering potential solutions, we are at a cross-roads as a nation, what do we want post Brexit Britain to look like? I would argue a truly inclusive and diverse with equal opportunity as a target point and not just a talking point.



About the author

June Sarpong MBE has enjoyed a 20-year career which has seen her become one of the most recognizable faces on British television, equally comfortable interviewing politicians, celebrities and members of the public. Currently, June is a panellist on Sky News’s flagship weekly current affairs show 'The Pledge'.



Hear more about our upcoming work, events and ideas.

Subscribe to updates