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Annie Hayes

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Opinion: Judge people on their merits – and profit from doing so

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‘Performance Through Inclusion’ MD Tony Burnett argues that without understanding the difference between the two concepts of diversity and inclusion, the UK’s problems resulting from an ageing and shrinking population will not be solved.


Many people in positions of power and influence in society have no great difficulty in subscribing to the diversity principle. It’s not a difficult argument to grasp and the logic is inescapable.

In essence it means judging and treating people on their real accomplishments, gifts, talents, words, and deeds – rather than accidents of race and birth, their genetic inheritance, acquired beliefs, accrued family wealth or the circumstances of their upbringing.

Easy-peasy.

Applying these principles to match the specific organisational needs of a particular business is another matter.

Managers seem to find difficulty in making the step from a moral and intellectual acceptance of the ‘diversity’ principle to taking a genuinely ‘inclusive’ approach to the management of their organisation’s affairs.

In other words, they fail to see a difference between diversity, the stage where organisations aim to become more diverse by employing people from many different backgrounds, and ‘inclusion’ – the stage where differences and values of each individual are truly recognised and allowed to flourish.

This difficulty in understanding, or misconception, can unfortunately be seen across the entire fabric of society, not least in the great institutions of state; the administration, the political system, the law and law enforcement agencies, commerce, industry and business.

Inclusion

We are all legally bound not to discriminate against others in employment matters on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, physical disability and soon age. How many of us, hand on heart, can say that a single day of our lives passes without some fragment of a less enlightened attitude crossing our mind – or at least our path?

Acknowledging the intrinsic merit and inevitability of the ‘diversity’ argument in a changing and shrinking world is straightforward enough. Applying it to issues like employment, recruitment, immigration, not to mention taxation, healthcare and education – is a minefield of complexities. Over centuries, exclusion has become enshrined in the customs, language, administrative mechanisms and legal framework of most developed nations.

This must change.

However worthy and admirable the notion, the actual task of bridging the gap between token ‘diversity’ and real ‘inclusion’ remains monumental. We have to unravel generations of bigotry, prejudice and ignorance and sometimes dismantle entire social, organisational and community structures, to travel each step on this road.

Paying lip service to diversity is largely a question of behavioural propriety; inclusiveness involves changing hearts, minds and methods. It’s about valuing the person behind the superficial stereotype. Quite another matter.

Measurements

There are, however, those who have made it their business to erect signposts along this thorny road. Performance Through Inclusion (PTI) is a business consultancy formed with this express objective in mind. We have devised investigative and analytical software systems to measure and monitor the degree to which managements of large organisations and public bodies translate their token diversity policies (often a mandatory pre-requisite of the allocation of official support) into genuinely inclusive management practice.

Having reached a relatively scientific view of the magnitude of the task that an organisation faces, we have strategies and systems designed to effect the necessary changes. These can then be monitored against the same criteria.

So what’s at stake?

The importance of becoming an inclusive organisation is clear to see, however the business case for becoming inclusive will depend on the particular organisation.

An inclusive organisation is a unified one. If people work within an organisation that they feel respects them and their individuality, then they are more likely to be loyal, less likely to move somewhere else. Inclusive organisations have high morale and this can have a huge impact on productivity also.

In addition to these internal reasons connected with human resource management, there are reasons for an organisation becoming inclusive that are linked to its external environment.

There are far too many to list here, but an inclusive organisation is in a far stronger position to impact business to business relations with suppliers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors and agents. It’s also able to leverage skills, experience and mental models in international environments, decrease its risks when entering new markets, and support effective new product development in international environments.

Truculence

As the business case alters, so do the strategies.

Let’s take a company operating a fleet of HGV’s as an example. The management may recognise that the easiest solution to the problem of an imminent shortage of trained and experienced male drivers is to recruit more female drivers. Fairly straightforward, you might think. Women are equally capable of physically controlling modern power-assisted haulage rigs and materials handling equipment.

But to do so a time-honoured (though discriminatory and illegal) assumption – that driving a long-distance goods vehicle is somehow a strictly male preserve – clearly needs to be swept aside. There may well be more to overcoming an outmoded form of discrimination than first meets the eye.

The fully inclusive management solution would need to take account of women’s wider family responsibilities, deep-rooted attitudes to women spending long periods of time away from their homes and families or their psychological suitability for long hours of tedious work in comparative isolation.

Attitudes to women truck drivers in some sensitive overseas markets might need to be examined, too, along with pay and other differentials.

It may well prove to be the case that women or members of other minority groups are equally equipped to carry out areas of transport and logistics management that were also previously regarded as IC, male preserves. Bringing about this profound cultural shift could require an elaborate training and re-education programme, with trade union and other contractual consequences.

A simple solution? Perhaps not?

Green shoots

Notwithstanding some of these complexities, I’m happy to report that the green shoots of fully inclusive management are springing to life in quite a number of major business organisations, trade, professional and public bodies. The NHS, for example, numerous leading Plcs and, indeed, Governments are prominent among our clients.

The diversity principle is well established and recognised in the NHS. Perhaps this is unsurprising, for an institution which began life by recruiting 24% of its medical professionals from territories that were formerly part of the British Empire – and which still relies on recruits from the Commonwealth and, more recently, European countries, to continue its work.

We have, however, detected huge variations in the degree to which even some of the more enlightened healthcare trusts around the country fully include those of differing races, nationalities and backgrounds in the processes of management, change and development. The rates of change vary considerably, too. Clearly, some sectors are progressing much further and more rapidly towards inclusion than others.

Imperative

Managements must recognise the importance for their organisation to become more diverse and inclusive. Putting aside all the internal and external issues mentioned already. The issue of a shrinking workforce highlighted briefly in the HGV example is crucial.

Within a decade-or-so, historic falling birth rates in the UK will cause an inexorable shift toward the recruitment of increasingly diverse workforces. By failing to take action in light of this fact they are ignoring one of the most critical elements in medium-term forward planning.

The proportion of workers outside what are now regarded as ‘normal’ age limits and gender stereotypes and recruits from other cultures is certain to increase progressively, as is the number of employees with disabilities.

Ethical and moral arguments aside, there is absolutely no doubt that if the large organisations, both public and private, on which we all depend, are to survive and prosper, not to say, grow), they will become increasingly reliant on employees from such minority groups.

If the economy of this, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, is to be sustained and revitalised, the majority of the organisations of which it is comprised will come to rely much more heavily on the inclusion of minority groups to survive.

My core contention is that full inclusion of these diverse groups is not an altruistic or politically correct option or fashionable foible, it is an inescapable imperative for any forward thinking management.

Organisations that fail to put processes in to encourage, train, motivate and give responsibility to employees from minority groups will find themselves at a serious disadvantage in the years to come.

As our name suggests, Performance Through Inclusion is focused on finding the means to optimise the performance of organisations in the achievement of their various social and commercial objectives.

We have no philosophical or political axe to grind.

We are simply facing the fact that in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, socially equitable, non-judgemental, employee-scarce society in which the business of this country will be conducted in years to come, the prejudices and divisions which have constrained and damaged society for generations will finally be overturned.

Simply adopting politically correct attitudes won’t bring about these changes. They will be driven by commercial expediency, market forces and social necessity. And they won’t happen spontaneously; they’ll need to be engineered by positive management.

Managements that are grasping the ‘inclusion’ nettle right now will be the first to reap tangible rewards and be best prepared to meet the challenges of the future.

Tony Burnett can be contacted on 01204 887 090 or at [email protected]


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