Diversity – a social and cultural issue

philbirchbw-e1297112991794The National Centre for Diversity details its mission as being “to encourage and enable organisations to adopt and develop behaviours and practices which promote inclusion, equality, diversity and achievement.”

They continue, “By understanding the different needs of your stakeholders whether they are employees or customers, or the many other groups that your organisation comes into contact with, we can help you recognise, adapt and enhance your culture to instigate positive changes.

By committing to embrace diversity you will see many business benefits which range from meeting legal requirements, reducing staff turnover and enhancing new product development.”

Diversity is as much a social and cultural issue as it is specifically in the workplace; clearly there are parallels. One can only recruit, for example, from those individuals who express an interest in a position with your company. You can only assess the appropriateness of the candidates that wish to be considered. When considering the strict laws and regulations regarding how we word and position vacancies in order that we specifically do not exclude minorities and, by definition, open the vacancy to the full diversity of our culture as a whole. If we are to accept that diversity is still an issue then we are led to two conclusions: either that the multi-cultural groups (race, gender, religion etc) are just not attracted to the positions and roles that we make available or that we ourselves do not positively act to create diversity in our own business enterprises.

I leave you for the moment with that thought.

Maybe it is worth considering real diversity from a less contentious perspective; let’s call it balance. Do you have a balance of stakeholders? Specifically, are your own client base, supply chain, investors, community and employees socially or culturally diverse? Do you yourself have a balanced enterprise?

Maybe, maybe not. So, if not, what are you doing about it? What can you do about it? A relatively simple, manageable and authentic first step would be to review your stakeholders as individual groups? Where is your investment capital coming from? The white, upper/middle-class male controlled banking system? Middle Eastern angel investors? Overseas investment trusts? Women-only funding organisations?

And your supply chain? Do you really exercise as much diligence in investigating an ecological and cultural balance when purchasing your business services or personal expenditure? Where exactly DO those trainers come from? Where is that leather jacket sourced? Who really gets the equitable recompense? And that call centre that you refuse to call because you cannot understand the dialect of the agent?

And so to closer to home, your employees. Are they all from a similar social and ethnic group? Are they all the same gender, for example. Do you get a balanced and diverse input from your team in order that you can make the most informed decision or is the only diversity on your team based upon skills set and experience: functional diversity is NOT cultural diversity.

Assuming that you are satisfied that after reviewing your own stakeholder mix that your enterprise fairly represents a diverse and balanced group, does this merely represent a balance beneath the psychopath? By this I mean that it is all well and good having diversity in place by quota, although I understand the logistical difficulties in achieving and maintaining this, but just how do you incorporate this diversity into the business operations and culture?

I understand that the Board of Lloyds TSB, yes the bank that we bailed out as taxpayers to the tune of over £46Bn, was made up of the predictably middle-class pin-striped brigade. All masters in their respective functional fields I am sure but guess what? It made no difference because the man at the top ignored their views and recommendations and bought the Scandinavian bank anyway with the consequences that we are all now living with.

My point here is two-fold; firstly, that it matters not a jot who and from which group your employees, partners, advisors and such come from if your are going to ignore them anyway and secondly, would it have actually made any difference if the Board WAS culturally and socially diverse? In this particular instance, I suspect not as Mr Goodwin was clearly on an unstoppable, unregulated ego-trip. “Too big to fail”? Ha! Clearly not.

There are, however, techniques and methods that eradicate, or at least mitigate to some degree, the impact of the Boardroom psychopath. Co-operative business models, like here at the 3rdi magazine, formally incorporate democratic voting processes for all members, not just formal employees. We have no restriction as to where we distribute our journal (other than the content being specifically marketed at the professional female business woman – mmm, is THIS an affront to diversity), nor who reads and comments, nor on the cultural or social source of any articles. If you do not favour the co-operative enterprise model then by using more open and inclusive decision making methods you may introduce perspective and solutions previously unavailable to you. Sociocracy, for example.

Sociocracy is described as a system of governance using consent-based decision making among equivalent individuals and an organisational structure also known as Circular Organizing, (based on a recent implementation of sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg) was developed as a new tool for governance of private enterprise, but has been adopted in many different kinds of organisations including public, private, non-profit and community organizations as well as professional associations. Using such principles as consent rather than consensus, transparency and interdependence, sociocratic organisations are claimed to be a more efficient and effective decision-making method than autocratic decision-making, because it builds trust and understanding. The process educates the participants about the needs of the other members in doing their work effectively as well as their psychological and social needs as human beings.

My final point is this: we are all, I assume, trying our best, but often it is easier to analyse a remote situation than it one that we are in the middle of. If we live and work in a predominantly white, middle-class, middle of the road environment then this will influence our personal culture, preferences and education. If our environment is diverse, multi-cultured, many faceted and we are intent on achieving balanced input, then this too will reflect our business culture.

Diversity, speaking from a pure Ethiconomics perspective is NOT just about getting more women on the Boards of big companies. That IS important, vital even, but to me it is more about creating balanced input, balanced viewpoints, balanced perspectives and a balanced enterprise. I very rarely advocate forced change. Empathetic, considered, equitable opportunities, yes. The creation of diverse stakeholders for these digitally enhanced multi-cultural times, yes. Inclusive, non-adversarial agreements and contracts, yes. A Boardroom environment of rich cultural, gender and social diversity where the psychopath is removed and the creativity of the innovators is released? Very much yes.

So I will leave with a final thought regarding a discussion that I have had several times recently regarding another commercial zeitgeist: that of trust and transparency. How many headlines and journalists, experts and commentators cry war on the lack of both. We need more transparency. We have lost all trust.

My simple view is this, if we have total transparency, we need no trust, and if we have total trust, we need no transparency. What we DO need is not more Government regulation but more personal regulation; personal responsibility in act and thought. If there was an enforced legal requirement for you to be investigated for your own enterprise’s diversity policies, across ALL stakeholders, just how compliant would you be?

Phil Birch is the3rdimagazine’s business editor.

1 Comment on Diversity – a social and cultural issue

  1. Anne Casey // June 4, 2013 at 11:27 am // Reply

    As with other articles this month, this article has also made me think more widely in terms of diversity. Of course we need to have diverse workforces but you have made me realise Phil that in business your influence can be so much wider than who you employ.

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