There's no excuse for the ‘pale, stale and male’ boards - Rashmi Dube

"Equity is a choice. Inclusion is an action. Belonging is an outcome.” Arthur Chan. Diversity and inclusion. All words and abbreviations I have heard a lot recently.

People patting themselves on the back about the greater increase in diversity they have in their organisation either predominantly refer to women, or the word diversity is used to refer to ethnic minorities, but in my experience predominantly black people.

Other genders or races are often not discussed. What amazes me is, on certain official days such as LGBTQI days, the number of organisations that change their websites to have the flag flying in a show of support or push articles, blogs etc about how they strive for greater diversity and how it makes the world and business a better place.

Yet they fail to actually look at their boards – still predominantly ‘pale, stale and male’ with the ‘token’ individual, either a woman or a woman of ethnic minority. I have even had one organisation head say to me “but there really is not anyone of colour working in **** sector”.

The corporate world must embrace diversity, says Rashmi Dube

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“Really?” I say as I ask him to really see me… “Oh you are the exception”. I sigh in disbelief and wonder is there any awareness that often people will tend to only network with those they know and who often look a lot like them.

As you read this you may be sitting there a little confused. Surely diversity is a good thing. It is something we have been fighting for, for a considerable time. Am I actually saying I don’t want diversity?

Surely items recently featured in The Times such as “Diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the West, to Putin’s groupthink” support the fact that diversity is good. Let me be absolutely clear, diversity itself is good.

I wholeheartedly agree and promote the idea that organisations are far better in every aspect by having a diverse workforce and leadership team, not just in terms of profitability but also culturally which inevitably impacts their stakeholders. What I am considering is my growing objection to the word ‘diversity’ and whether it should be dropped completely. What often happens in practice in any event is that you find the word inclusion is dropped and people talk about diversity. Therefore, can we not simply just talk about inclusion?

Why does inclusion sit separately, and surely if we are inclusive then by default are we not diverse? The thing about diversity is it refers to anyone who is not the current centre of gravity – the others, different genders and ethnicities and, in some instances, as I have recently discovered, the assumption is that if you have not worked at a certain organisation or school, you simply cannot comprehend the issues.

If the objective is to be inclusive then surely we don’t require a tick box for diversity, a point made as far back as 2015 in the New York Times by writer Anna Holmes who characterised diversity as “a box to check off in the context of representation in the media…”

The issue with diversity is it does not make ‘others’ feel included. Only inclusion allows you both a seat at the table and a voice. Inclusion means not just being asked to the party (see how diverse we are) but being asked to dance at the party (inclusion); a place where our voices are heard, and we are seen. Inclusion will allow organisations to change their environment quicker. Those that are impacted by lack of inclusion, for example women, have tended to adjust their behaviour to fit in.

By ‘fitting in’, there is a trade-off, and the result is that neither the organisation benefits from the women’s full potential and neither does the women reach her full potential – a lose-lose situation.

Imagine: an organisation that is inclusive, so that the identity people hold does not harm them and hold them back. Fostering a greater sense of community can only mean tokenism dissolves, innovation is encouraged, performance is enhanced, and opportunities created and grasped. Ask yourself are you truly inclusive?

By Rashmi Dube - Partner – gunnercooke