Ben Sullivan is the CEO and Co-Founder of The Reverse Mentoring Practice, with a vision to eliminate discrimination in the workplace, so that people and businesses thrive because of their differences. Here Ben explains the importance of diversity in the workplace but why leaders are often ill-prepared because their understanding about diversity and inclusion is too simplistic.
Many forward thinking leaders support the idea that diversity adds value for either business or moral reasons. It is a good thing and these leaders want to do something about it.
But leaders are often ill-prepared because their understanding about diversity and inclusion is too simplistic. The reality is more complex, as diversity is good but not always easy.
Because we underestimate the complexity of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), most training doesn’t work. It does not enact meaningful change. Sure you might learn some new concepts about your unconscious biases or how to spot micro aggressions, but our behaviours are not changed from these short-term training sessions. We go back to work, hire and promote the same types of people and exclude (consciously or unconsciously) those who are different to us.
As a business leader I had this simplistic view of EDI too. It is hard not to when you are an able-bodied, straight, white man. I am from the group with the most tailwinds in life. I reflect on my experience as an immigrant moving from Australia to set up a business in the UK. Doors were opened and opportunities provided, I even met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and had a glass of sherry with the King at Clarence House. I know others with a different colour of skin don’t get this type of experience.
So if you are a forward thinking leader and the short-term EDI training sessions have no impact, what can you do?
Here are some of the things I have learned as a CEO of a company trying to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.
- Humility – You have to be humble, know that you won’t get things right and ask questions. Don’t be fearful and be open to learn from others. Cultural humility is a core element of the Reverse Mentoring Practice and this involves actively listening to others, seeking to understand their perspectives, or recognising the power imbalances that can exist in cross-cultural interactions. It also involves taking responsibility for one’s own biases and assumptions and working to overcome them.
- It is likely your recruitment process is not inclusive enough, what are the things excluding people from applying who are different? Advertise in different places like https://lgbtjobs.co.uk/ or disabilityjob.co.uk and use some tips on language for job ads. Check out page 25 for a list of 12 job ad tips.
- Do more show and tell – We do “tell me about you” sessions to learn about each other. It has created a culture of trust as people have built up the courage to share things about themselves that they might not talk about with other friends.
- How inclusive are your products or services? Try to include a process that validates your offer using people who are different.
- Measure and report on progress. There is no point having a policy or strategy if it is not measured. Include some stats in monthly and quarterly business reviews
- Don’t be an ally, be active in your approach to EDI. Sharing experiences with others and sticking up for those without a voice is crucial.
Since co-founding the Reverse Mentoring Practice, we have made a conscious effort to grow the business in an inclusive way.
Rather than just have a growth strategy, we have an inclusive growth strategy so EDI is baked into the business plan.
We are still learning how best to do this and welcome any ideas or suggestions.
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