It’s not just good business - diversity and inclusion is every firm’s social responsibility

By Rachel Credidio, group people and transformation director

Diversity is rightly at the top of many businesses’ agendas, and that includes Aster Group.

During 2020, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has meant that the issue has been in the spotlight even more than usual.

So, it was enlightening to hear the panel of experts from industry and academia share their insights and experiences on diversity in the workplace at the second in our  World of Work virtual roundtable events – a project we recently launched to explore how the world of work looks now and how it will change in the future.

The panel agreed that working with people from a range of backgrounds and abilities means bringing in new perspectives, which can support better decision-making and increased innovation and productivity.

But diversity campaigner and director at global advertising agency TBWA, Farhat Zaheer, argued that the justification for diversity is too often rooted in the business case, with evidence that more diverse businesses grow faster and are more profitable.

Firms must look beyond the bottom line, said Farhat, and recognise their social responsibility to reflect the communities in which they operate.

I was encouraged to hear our panellists agree that a tipping point has been reached where societal change is now the main driver of diversity.

Businesses are increasingly being held to account by their employees, customers and other stakeholders, including suppliers and investors.

I think that’s a really positive development and demonstrates something that I’ve been saying for a long time – that employees must have a voice in organisational change if businesses are to create a truly inclusive culture.

At Aster, we’re working hard on achieving that inclusivity through our flexible culture as well as by developing our leadership capability to ensure inclusive leadership is our default style and supports our fair and inclusive culture - this includes everything from the way we recruit to how we encourage employee voice.

We were early adopters of remote working, introducing it several years before the onset of Covid-19. It’s meant we’ve been able to recruit from a larger and more diverse pool of talent.

Our flexible working practices also support employees with challenges such as mobility issues or those with caring commitments, whether children or other family members.

My colleagues will have heard me say many times that work is something you do not somewhere you go. That’s because I believe it passionately.

Yet, while bringing new perspectives into an organisation is one of the key benefits of greater diversity, it can also be challenging, making it vital that everyone is brought along on the transformation journey.

Different viewpoints and diversity of thought can lead to challenging conversations, so at Aster we’ve rolled out restorative practice; a set of principles and processes that can be used to build relationships by setting a foundation of mutual respect.

We’ve also trained one in ten of our colleagues to be mental health first-aiders, which has helped break down barriers and tackle the stigma around mental health issues.

But there is always more that can be done.

Another of our guests on the World of Work roundtable was Anne McBride, professor of employment relations at Alliance Manchester Business School.

She explained how businesses can promote diversity and inclusion outside their organisations by working with their partners, customers and supply chains.

Adding diversity commitments into the contractual process is one aspect of this but, Anne argued, so is being willing to work collaboratively with stakeholders to help them make improvements.

I believe that it is just as important for businesses to engage with the wider community that makes up their colleagues and customers, including young people.

Working with schools to mentor and provide internships is inspiring young people from all backgrounds and broadening their horizons, opening their eyes to career opportunities they may never have considered.

I’ve seen through our own apprenticeship programme how young people can excel in unexpected ways given the right guidance and support.

It was heartening to hear from all the panellists about the strides being made by all kinds of businesses genuinely motivated to do the right thing for the right reasons.

Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests have helped to ensure there is rightly now even more momentum behind the push for diversity in business.

As leaders we all have a role to play in ensuring the world of work continues to change for the better.

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