Inclusion + Empowerment = Diversity

Af Malhotra shares his thoughts – a blend of words from a video transcript Jan 2022.  

“Inclusion is a mindset, diversity is a program” 

 Indra Nooyi, Former CEO, Pepsi

Key Points

  • Inclusion creates a deep sense of empowerment which are the core pre-cursors to Diversity. This nuance is exactly what global leaders need to understand to make diversity a default part of their culture and way of thinking 
  • Running large scale Diversity Programs that cost millions of dollars, without addressing the Inclusion and Empowerment issues – will not deliver the desired outcome
  • Unless deep-rooted systemic biases, prejudice, and preconceived ideas are addressed and corrected real change will be hard to achieve. Start from the top – rethink how to attract and retain top talent – make this a board-level decision and set up working groups (that include talent from all functions and levels – not just the senior folk) 
  • Hiring the token black or brown person in the Chief Diversity Officer role – while useful and sensible – is meaningless if that person is not given a strong team, significant budget, decision-making rights, a seat on the board, and accountability for company-wide systemic change 

Let’s first define what we mean by Inclusion, Empowerment, and Diversity – in the context of a global enterprise. 

Inclusion = being actively involved in all aspects of the decision-making process. Having both a seat and a voice at the leadership table. Being consulted. Being counted. Being recognised. Being respected. To feel included is deeply empowering and can create the psychological safety needed for one to thrive. Being inclusive is being aware. We all wish to be heard and to feel part of something larger than life. We wish to belong and value the identity that this brings. 

Empowerment = Decision-making power. Leadership, both with or without authority or a job title. A deep sense of purpose that evokes passion and fuels the perseverance to make a real difference. Being able to say ‘NO’ when others say ‘YES’. Access to the CEO and board to share meaningful ideas and feedback that will build an inclusive and diverse culture. 

Diversity = Being integrated into a team and organisational culture that clearly respects and admires the differences in each of us, and sees them as advantages that will add value – both in terms of cultural harmony and financial success. Diversity is about looking around a room, and seeing an inspiring mix of people – from different genders, races, and social backgrounds. All playing their role in making a difference. Diversity is really happening when those around you look and sound different in their unique ways, and yet are totally synchronised (as citizens of the company), aligned to common values, goals, and strategic ambitions. Diversity extends beyond gender and race. In fact, these are the most basic qualifications. Other aspects of diversity matter equally. Diversity of thought and opinions. Diversity of personalities (where both introverts and extroverts are respected equally and not type cast). Diversity of sexual orientation and self-identification. Diversity of culture, and socio-economic backgrounds. Diversity of linguistics, accents, and tonality. It all counts. It all matters. 

Diversity is not easy to attain. A big gap in diversity can still be seen at the boardroom level. Even the most admired brands in the world cannot get it right. Google, for instance, spent $268million between 2016-2018 on driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They did this because, at the time, the number of ethnic employees stood at just single digits. This was something that didn’t bode well for the company. However, after spending all this money, two years passed, and the number of ethnic leaders was still in the low single digits. Google failed, even with its deep pockets, proving that diversity can only become a reality when change happens at the core. Leaders have to change. Conversations have to be open and direct. Issues need to be addressed head-on. There should be no elephants in the room. Change takes time. And leaders need to own this important agenda. 

You don’t want to be seen as #Diversitywashing 

Despite so much money being spent on diversity programmes, most boardrooms still consist of white males. For many it is clear-cut; Diversity is not working (at least not as it should), because boardrooms are not diverse. It’s really that simple. The lack of real evidence – proof points, case studies, and optics combined – add fuel to the fire for the skeptics who see diversity as just another fad with no or a low evidence base to suggest it actually works to drive sustainable growth for a company. The view is that ‘Diversity’ is used as a brand enhancement opportunity to change or augment market perception. It is the perfect ‘we need to be seen doing this’ program, where huge marketing hype is created as global brands (who also mimic one another) publish grand Diversity & Inclusion strategy reports (30-40 pages of text that convey all the right things – but are often detached from reality) – to convince their shareholders, stakeholders, customers, and others to take Diversity seriously. The jury is out and we await their verdict. 

Another adjacent trend where Diversity features are ESG. ESG is a topic for another time, yet it’s worth noting that Diversity represents the S= Social, and the G=Governance in ESG). AKA  #diversitywashing (borrowed from the popularised term #greenwashing). 

For Diversity to work, it needs to be seen as a MUST HAVE. A necessity – without which an organisation would struggle to thrive, lose its best talent, see its market share decline, lose customers, lose investors, and so on. The merits of having different minds, skills, thinking hats, and leadership styles operating together in harmony can be transformational. The business case for Diversity needs to include both tangible (financial) and intangible (non-financial) value.

We should celebrate the progress made so far. And yet, we know there is much work still to be done.

Authored by Aftab Malhotra