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  • Tamara Makoni

D&I: Put the horse before the cart

Focus on inclusion first to create an environment where diversity can thrive.


‘It’s time for a new way of thinking’ around D&I, according to the Harvard Business Review. The business case has been clear for years: diverse teams are more innovative and versatile. This in turn positively impacts companies’ P&L sheet. The evidence mounts each year; HBR and the World Economic Forum call it a ‘no-brainer’.


So why are so many businesses still not reaping the benefits of a culturally diverse workplace?


For many, their approach is too simplistic: take an organisation, add diversity, stir. But increasing diversity doesn't by itself lead to success when moving into new markets, or any other proven benefits. Human interaction (aka the bedrock of innovation and other things that cultural diversity positively impacts) is far too complex for that.


Businesses need to realise it’s not the act of putting together a team that determines its success or failure. What counts is the way you enable that team to function, and how they work together.

Inclusion breeds diversity


Yes, you read that right. We say ‘diversity & inclusion’, but if you want to attract, retain and get the most from a diverse workforce to have to put ‘inclusion’ first (aka put the horse before the cart). If this sounds weird to you, you’re in good company: many executives opt to put inclusion on hold until their workforce is ‘diverse enough’ to warrant it. But here’s why that doesn’t work:


  • Waiting for diversity is a fallacy. If you have a workforce larger than 1, diversity already exists. That's because Cultural diversity isn’t only visible traits like gender and ethnic background. Sexual orientation counts. So do parenthood, religious affiliation, language and socioeconomic background, to name a few. See? Peel back a layer and you'll see that your workforce is already diverse. And if you’re not looking into inclusion, you most likely have team members who feel excluded right now.


  • We all gravitate towards spaces where we feel safe, accepted and seen. Would you rather be in a place with a sign that reads ‘come as you are, all are welcome’ or ‘come fit into our narrow mould’? You probably chose the first option. The vast majority of us would. Businesses who hang this kind of sign get people from across global society wanting to work with them. And thanks to their inclusive leadership practices, they get the best from their diverse workforce.


Getting it right is crucial


In 2020, 76% of job seekers and employees surveyed by Glassdoor said diversity is important when evaluating companies and job offers. And increasingly across Millennials and Gen Z, D&I credentials are a deciding factor when applying for roles. In short, demonstrating commitment to fostering inclusion is just as compelling as the business case for diversity itself.


In summary, implementing a meaningful D&I strategy is non-negotiable - and getting it right is crucial. To do this, remember to think ‘diversity & inclusion’ while you put the horse before the cart in practice.