Is D&I the new tech?

by | Jun 6, 2019 | The Inclusion

Are business leaders about to make the same mistakes with D&I as they did with tech?

Thanks to the likes of Pepsi, H&M and Uber, (interchangeable with any number of top firms including Starbucks, Sephora & Prada), we have all seen that businesses need to get D&I strategy and execution right. Otherwise, they will face significant commercial and reputational risks. Yet many businesses are still trying to deliver their D&I agendas on the cheap, usually as a sideline activity, with no real investment.

When D&I can deliver such startling business benefits as a 33% over performance against competitors this approach is perplexing.

Why would business leaders ignore such an opportunity? To make sense of this, we cast our minds back to the 90s and the early days of tech.

In the beginning, many traditional businesses just didn’t understand what tech meant. Technology, for most, was usually something that ‘techie’ people did and had little to do with the leadership team.

‘Cutting-edge’ for many companies involved building a website, developing an intranet few people used and rolling-out Microsoft office. The IT department was a strange place, filled with ‘back office’ people that no-one really understood, who were just called upon to sort out desktop issues.

Only forward-looking leaders realised that for businesses to survive, they needed to be built around tech. Those leaders went on to change their entire business models.

Nowadays, the ‘techie’ people are running the world and many previously successful businesses have been disrupted or have become obsolete.

In the same way, many leaders still see diversity as an ‘over there’ issue that sits with HR, or with a board member who has a personal passion. Very few business leaders that we speak to, can genuinely articulate how business-critical D&I is. They certainly aren’t grasping the seismic shift in organisational culture, recruitment practices and day-to-day behaviours required to deliver it successfully. And even fewer understand that for any change to happen they need to prioritise and resource it properly. They just don’t seem to understand that D&I is the next significant market movement.

The leaders who made the leap into transforming their businesses got tech-immersed themselves. They invested in new and radical ideas, some of which didn’t work. They engaged with specialists and ruthlessly looked at every part of their business and their markets. Using the prism of tech transformation, they weren’t afraid to make difficult decisions and set different directions.

Leaders who want to harness the power of diversity, need to do the same.

Insanity is doing the same thing over-and-over again and expecting different results

As with the early days of tech, many mainstream businesses are at risk of missing out on this new market opportunity. Leaders, it seems, have not learnt from the lessons of tech taught us. Instead, they seem to be waiting for D&I to become business critical to properly invest.  

How many businesses that no longer exist, thought that tech was a passing fad?

In many sectors, talent is one of the few levers left to drive competitive advantage. After all, how do firms differentiate themselves in crowded competitive markets? Greater diversity, underpinned by inclusive cultures, leads to greater innovation, new market share and better decision making. It also improves attraction and retention across the board.

But most businesses aren’t changing. They might say they want different talent coming through but fall back to using the same filters that recruit the same sort of people, from the same backgrounds, in the same way. Or, perhaps worse, they hire in lots of diverse talent, but don’t change their culture and the talent leaves. Too many businesses are still viewing diversity as a tick-box exercise, rather than a core pillar of their strategy.

How can businesses think differently without diversity at their core?

Unlocking the diversity dividend

Unfortunately, the D&I agenda has evolved in an ad-hoc way, leading to disjointed thinking and non-aligned activities, that might look good in a report but don’t lead to any real change.

Furthermore, poorly conceived and executed D&I strategies create disengagement, cynicism and diversity fatigue.

If businesses really want to drive innovation they need people who are different from the current norm. We often hear people say that they can’t find great diverse talent. Yet, the talent we work with has entrepreneurship, resilience and creative drive in abundance.

With so much at stake, it’s surprising how poorly businesses are still thinking about their D&I

approach.  Many large corporations who were behind the curve on tech tried to play catch up by buying tech businesses, for often eye-watering sums. Almost all of those businesses have failed. Why? Because in the main, business had not undergone the radical organisational change required.  This won’t be an option for diversity as corporates won’t be able to buy in smaller more diverse firms and reap the benefits.

We hope that leaders can learn from the lessons of tech before it is too late.

‘Is D&I the New Tech?’ was written by Co-Founders Daniel Snell and Emily Shenton with contributions from Matt Cooper. 

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