Why equality and diversity will pay off financially for businesses - Ismail Mulla

The world of motorsport and Formula One in particular was once again caught up in a racism storm.

Comments made by former three-time World Champion Nelson Piquet last year, where he was said to have used racist languag to describe seven-time World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, remerged this week.

Now you’re probably wondering why am I talking about racism in motorsport in a business column? But bear with me.

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Sir Lewis has broken every record going on top of being the first black World Champion in F1’s history.

Sir Lewis Hamilton.Sir Lewis Hamilton.
Sir Lewis Hamilton.

Yet he is much more than than the championship wins, fastest laps and countless records. He has been a beacon of hope for change.

Having suffered racism throughout his career, rather than cowering away for fear of upsetting bigots, he has dragged the whole of F1 into a position where it at the very least questions prejudices around the sport and wider society.

What struck me the most about this most recent controversy was how Sir Lewis continues to take the high road. He could easily have become emotional and turned to personal insults. Instead he understands that there is a bigger purpose - changing attitudes in society.

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For people who aren’t aware of F1 or have lost touch with the sport in recent years, it was taken over by American powerhouse Liberty Media in 2017. Ever since then, there has been a concerted effort to turn it into a commercial behemoth, marching into markets like the US, where the sport had previously struggled to gain a foothold. Traditional fans are increasingly being sidelined in pursuit of the dollar with more and more races being put on Stateside.

Whenever the circus rolls into countries with questionable human rights records, the go-to line is ‘it’s important for the growth of the sport’.

I would argue that just as important to the growth of any business is equality. How can you maximise performance when you narrow the audience that you are appealing to?

F1 would do well to remember that while the shiny new tracks at glamorous locations bring in money, people from diverse backgrounds also help the balance sheet.

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Staying with the example of the circus that is F1, there’s another racing driver on the grid by the name of Sebastian Vettel.

The German has been a long-time rival of Sir Lewis, winning four championships of his own between 2010 and 2013.

In the end the phenomenon of Sir Lewis meant he was second best until he fell back from the front of the grid completely in 2020. However, despite their often intense rivalry on track it never got personal. And in the dying embers of his days at Ferrari, where he failed to fulfil his dream of winning a championship with the Italian team, Vettel took the knee and offered unqualified support to his rival during the Black Lives Matter protests.

If you think that sort of allyship doesn’t mean anything to people of colour - think again.

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Especially in an age where all it takes is for someone with a social media account to start bandying about words like ‘woke’.

Closer to home, Halifax Bank found itself being subjected to vitriol for posting a simple Tweet reading ‘Pronouns matter.’ with a picture of a name badge also featuring pronouns.

It led to a lot of noisy people, who often decry ‘cancel culture’, wanting to cancel their supposed accounts.

Interestingly, the bank rather than caving into pressure offered details on how these supposed customers could do just that.

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On the other hand, the charity Stonewall welcomed this simple and small gesture.

“Having pronouns on badges is a simple yet impactful way to make sure LGBTQ+ identities are respected – for employees and customers alike,” it Tweeted in response.

Once again, that allyship will mean a lot for people from that community.

Just as business needs to work for everyone within its potential customer base, society needs to work for everybody.

So empower your staff to stand for marginalised communities and, those of you that are doing so, don’t think that your allyship is lost on these people.