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Diversity is not a problem, it's an opportunity

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Diversity and inclusion have been on the agenda for a long time and there has been a degree of success in addressing the issue. According to the Parker Review Committee, 81 of FTSE 100 companies had ethnic representation on their boards in March 2021, up from 52 in January 2020 and this is seen as reasonable progress in fixing the problem.

There has also been a noticeable increase in the appointment of chief diversity officers in organisations. We are clearly seeing D&I as an area that requires attention. And therein lies the issue. We see a lack of diversity as a problem to be fixed, so we think of it in terms of a problem and we seek solutions such as quotas, chief diversity officers or employing consultancies to address the problem.


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Diversity is not a problem. It is the greatest opportunity most organisations have to improve their performance and until we change the understanding and, therefore, the language from problem to opportunity, any change will be incremental and grudging. 

I am a rugby coach and I coach players of all ages in male, female and mixed teams. One thing I have learned is that until around the age of 10, girls are far better rugby players than boys. Research shows they have better spatial awareness and they communicate better.

One school I coach enters an Under-9 tournament every year and, to promote inclusion, tournament rules stipulate that every team must always have at least two girls on the pitch.

In essence, the tournament organisers are looking at D&I as a problem that must be solved and are appointing each coach as chief diversity officer for their own team. We were being asked to make selections based on quotas and solving a problem. 

Yes, they are being asked to promote girls in rugby, but setting and managing such a quota is a retrograde step.

When I received the tournament rules I shared them with my team and asked them what they thought. Their view was unequivocal.  We should be allowed to pick the best team. So, we did. We entered an all-girls team. 

I refused to act as chief diversity officer and impose a quota to solve a problem. Just ask the 8-year-old boy, the sports star of the school, who told me: “Sir, I want the school to win, and the girls are the best. If we pick the best team, we all win because we can cheer them on.”

That is an inclusive view but not one that emerged from solving a problem, rather one that evolved as we worked together and came to appreciate everybody has something of value to contribute.

The tournament organisers objected to our team believing we were trying to make a point. Our point was simple: we threw away the rulebook that says boys play rugby, we ignored the quota and we set about picking the best team we had. Our point was simply that by being entirely open in our thinking and seeing diversity as an opportunity not a problem we had a better team.

If children of that age can demonstrate inclusion, understand that building the best teams means finding the best people irrespective of ethnicity, gender or any other factor, then why can we not change that belief in our organisations?

Quotas and chief diversity officers pre-suppose there is a D&I problem when, in reality, simply changing our perspective from “We need to be diverse” to “Being diverse makes us better” will make a significant change for good.

For the record, the team we picked beat every other team. And, yes, every other school complained. Next year I might try an all-left-handed team.

 

Simon Ratcliffe is principal consultant at Ensono

 

If you have a pressing D&I problem you can't get to the bottom of, send in your query here where it will be be answered by our resident D&I specialist Huma Qazi in the next issue of HR magazine.