Is DE&I a Business Imperative?



In the past decade, we have made some progress in developing an understanding of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We still have a loooooong way to go, but I am pleased to see some noticeable changes (at least in the rhetoric).


Throughout my career, we have gone from zero discussion around DE&I, through to a phase where CEOs were standing up at town hall meetings discussing DE&I because their HR team told them they should, to now where people talk openly about it being the "right thing to do".


Today I pose two questions to you:

  1. Have we done enough? (not even close), and

  2. What's next for DE&I?

DE&I is a business imperative


Inspired by our wonderful and insightful interview on The Leadership Project Podcast with Martine Kalaw, I pose to you that DE&I is not just the right thing to do, it is a business imperative.


Kalaw is the CEO and Founder of Martine Kalaw Enterprises and the bestselling author of 2 books - The ABCs of Diversity and Illegal Among Us.


Kalaw shared her own inspirational story of being a stateless orphan navigating the choppy waters of immigration law. She has a refreshingly objective view where she has seen bias and inequity from both sides of the equation. Seeing the world from both a perspective of privilege and disadvantage.


She brings great clarity to the discussion around diversity; the differences between equity and equality; what inclusion means and how it feels to be excluded; and she provides wonderful guidance for people that want to be an ally but do not know how. For more details on these topics, please do catch the interview on The Leadership Project podcast on your preferred podcast service.


For today's article, we will explore her assertion that DE&I is a business imperative and the ways DE&I can become a source of competitive advantage.


You may listen to the whole interview with Martine Kalaw as we talk about "Diversity; Equity and Inclusion is a Business Imperative" here:



Attracting and Retaining A Talented Workforce


There is little doubt that all companies are in a constant battle for talented and motivated team members. With the Great Resignation, we are seeing a constant revolving door where people are out searching for a workplace that values them and where they feel that they belong.


We must always remember that the job interview is a 2-way process. Yes, we are interviewing the candidate to see if they will be a "good fit", but they are also sizing us up to see if they will be happy there.


More than ever, people do their research on the companies they will join. They look for signals of the brand and what the brand truly stands for. They look for social proof, searching on social media and sites like Glassdoor for signals of Third Party Trust that the company they are about to join is one where they will feel that they belong.


They are looking for any signs of a toxic culture and testing whether the environment is one based on inclusion.


I am not just talking about people from marginalised groups; I am also talking about their allies. People are becoming increasingly attuned to the work environment they are going to join.


If you want to remain relevant as a company in the future, and if you want to develop a competitive advantage and attract the brightest talent into your organisation, then it is time to get serious about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. This is not about marketing and rhetoric, having wonderful policies or statements, or putting rainbow backdrops on your social media for #pridemonth. This is about real tangible action to build an inclusive workplace where everyone feels that they belong. A workplace that takes concrete actions for diversity and proactive actions for equity.


Diversity of Thought - A competitive advantage


One of the most compelling and tangible outcomes of a diverse workforce based on equity and inclusion is the diversity that this brings. Whether you are trying to solve a key business or launch a new product, it is key to have diversity of thought in the room.


Having people from all walks of life that have had a diverse set of experiences will increase your ideation and problem-solving. With a diverse workforce, there is an increasing chance that someone in your team has encountered your current situation or one similar to it.


This diverse workforce will also have an increased understanding and empathy for the customers you serve and the pro


blems you are trying to solve for them. This will ensure that the innovation that your team generates will be more focused on the real challenges that your customer is facing.


Having a diverse workforce is not enough; however, you also need a psychologically safe environment where everyone feels that they can voice their opinions without fear of judgement or retribution. Giving people a seat at the table is not enough; we must give them a platform for their voices to be heard and for their opinions to be valued. In doing so, people will feel that they matter and will be encouraged to bring new and innovative thinking to the table.


Inclusion as a force multiplier


An inclusive workplace can unlock the amazing full potential of your teams in multiple ways.


Let's start with the individual. When people are confused about what inclusion really means I often ask them to imagine the opposite - exclusion. We have all had experiences where we know how exclusion feels. Whether it is in the workplace or dates back to the schoolyard where kids would gather in cliques, there are environments where we feel like we belong and there are environments where we just don't seem to fit in.


Now harness that feeling of exclusion. Ask yourself, do you feel motivated to do your best work when you are constantly questioning whether or not you belong or if you even want to be there? I am almost certain the answer is a resounding no.


When we have an exclusion in our workplace people very quickly disengage. They get what I call "Heavy Leg Syndrome" where they physically or metaphorically get to the bottom of the staircase at work and their legs get heavier and heavier as they climb the stairs. They may even start posing questions like "is it Friday yet


?" even on a Monday. Any team member that feels excluded is not going to be your most motivated and productive worker. They may even just do the bare minimum to not get fired; just work for their paycheck, or they may even be sitting there at work searching for their next job.

Conversely, an environment based on inclusion energizes everyone. They feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. They will show up every day to do their best and help everyone else around them. This is the first level of unlocking team capacity.


Having an inclusive environment also encourages a culture of co-creation. Where the team works with each other; respects each other; and deeply listens to each other. In an inclusive environment, people acknowledge and embrace the individual superpowers that each individual brings to the table and help each other to cover any weak spots. From an inclusive environment, we can co-create a team that is far greater than the sum of its parts unlocking a new level of productivity and creativity.


Measuring the business benefit


Many organizations have begun measuring their DE&I programs but I do question whether we are measuring the right things.


We see companies measuring generic KPIs like gender balance. Firstly, DE&I is far more than a gender balance issue, although I do applaud any company that is making tangible and concrete action to address the abysmal state of gender equity and equality in the workplace. Secondly, measuring across the entire organization is not identifying whether we have diversity within teams. We still see a heavy bias in many job families. We see limited female representation in fields like engineering and limited male representation in fields like HR, Admin, and Finance. Measuring across the board does not pick this up.


Most companies are measuring lead indicators and setting thresholds for representation. In many cases, these thresholds and targets do not even move the needle on the problem.


I pose to you that we should be measuring outcomes against our DE&I initiatives - measuring shifts in employee engagement, asking d


irect and open questions about whether they feel included and empowered to their best work, and matching engagement and culture measures against company performance indicators to assess the correlation between engagement and the bottom line.


Summary - ACT NOW


In summary, DE&I is not just the right thing to do. It is a business imperative and can become a point of competitive advantage. I challenge you to consider the current state of employee engagement and the great resignation and use DE&I action (not words) to turn this current adversity into a business opportunity.


Attract and retain an amazing, talented and diverse workforce. Give people purpose & meaning in what they do. Encourage and reward diversity of thought. Provide psychological safety so that people find their voice and share their diversity of opinions. Create an inclusive environment to unlock the true capacity of each individual, and collectively, the team.


I would love to hear your thoughts on the above. Do you agree that DE&I is a business imperative? Do you see other business benefits other than those listed above? Please let us hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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