The Office for National Statistics recently revealed the number of women in employment is at an all-time high.
But are businesses really doing enough to build, sustain and grow inclusive and diverse workplace cultures?
Honestly – no.
Daniele Fiandaca, founder and changemaker at culture change business Utopia explains that in many industries, the prevalent workplace culture is still an exclusionary and often damaging shade of what’s deemed ‘masculine’.
The workplace has been created over the past millenia by men – and, let’s face it: white, cisgender, heteronormative men – so is ‘masculine’ by design. Traditional and therefore stereotypical leadership traits like ambition, confidence and dominance are celebrated and rewarded. Success is often judged by how far you climb up the ladder – how many people you kick off along the way is often immaterial.
This leaves softer attributes like listening, empathy and vulnerability by the sidelines, and it’s an environment that damages women, people of colour, neurodiverse people – anyone who doesn’t fit the masculine stereotype. Their abilities and skills are bumped down to second place, and the glass ceiling gets an extra coating of corrugated iron.
And let’s not be too simplistic – it also damages men and their rights. As Grayson Perry put it: “Men’s rights: The right to be vulnerable. The right to be weak. The right to be wrong. The right to be intuitive. The right not to know. The right to be uncertain. The right to be flexible. The right not to be ashamed of any of these.”
In fact, these are universal rights, and without acknowledging and creating space for these and the softer skills already mentioned, businesses miss out on a huge swathe of talent. The proof’s in the paper – last year’s updated McKinsey Report links inclusion and diversity to financial success. Creating a proper inclusion strategy allows that diversity to flourish and gives creativity a chance to shine.
It requires buy-in from everyone, but business leaders must be willing to change. To open up, to reconsider their behaviour, to admit when they need help. To quote Brene Brown: “The Oz model of leadership – all knowing, all powerful – doesn’t play anymore. If there were people who had all the answers, we wouldn’t be in the trouble we are in today. [We require leaders] who stand up and say, ‘Hey, we are struggling in this area, and I don’t have all the answers. And I need your help… That kind of leader is somebody people will follow into a burning building.”
The solution is simple, but not easy. To make inclusive leaders – as Deloitte so brilliantly distilled – there’s got to be a real mix of traditional and soft qualities. Someone viewed as a ‘boss’ should be confident, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be empathetic. They can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. A neutral palette of traditional and soft traits; of authoritative and emotional intelligence, will attract the right kind of talent to help businesses thrive.
A leader like this is an example to follow, a catalyst for the rest of the workforce to implement change. For example, I know a few businesses where the C-suite frees up a block of time, every week, without fail, to discuss non-work matters with employees – personal stuff, challenges at home and so on.
To stand a chance, though, there has to be real commitment to inclusion and diversity, boardroom to post room. White, heterosexual, able-bodied men – who still dominate senior leadership in many industries – often struggle with inclusion and diversity, because they’ve been brought up as part of the ‘in’ crowd. Why should they change, they ask, when everything seems to be going swimmingly right now?
It takes time, patience and understanding. You can’t change people’s minds by bashing them over the head with what you believe – even if it’s right, even if you think they’re completely in the wrong.
I recently held a workshop where a man pulled me aside at the end and said: ‘The session was ok, but I didn’t get the bit you said about embracing vulnerability. I’ll never feel like that.’
He didn’t get it because he’d never had to experience it. Never been encouraged to. He’s never going to get it, and countless others aren’t either. Unless there’s systemic change through inclusion and diversity, driven by inclusive leaders for benefits across the board.