The business benefits of workplace inclusion and workforce diversity have been well explored and described. Many companies – global, international, and domestic – have been working on this for years, and in some cases for decades.
And yet there’s still a problem.
The reasons initiatives are not delivering intended outcomes have also been well explored and described.
And yet there’s still a problem.
So what’s going on? Is there another reason that companies large and small are failing at this?
One that just isn’t being openly discussed?
The elephant in the room is much more insidious: conflicts of interest.
It’s the shameful corporate reality that never gets discussed and underlies the lack of progress.
I can relate to this personally. I decided to come out as gay after serving for 17 years with an employer. Having risen to a senior executive position leading a large business unit, I had decided I needed to live my authentic self at work. I had to decide whether I was willing to accept the potential consequences of coming out in the forms of at-work discrimination, career stagnation, maybe even having to leave the company.
I sought assurances that the company’s statements on inclusion and diversity were authentic and not just “box-ticking”. With other LGBT+ colleagues, we formed the first LGBT+ employee resource group in the company anywhere in the world. We participated in the Stonewall UK workplace equality index and worked across diversity groups to bring about change. I then began to see, experience, and, regrettably, became personally complicit, in these conflicts of interest. I saw first-hand the conflict between the actions needed to bring about change and the personal impacts that they can have. It creates a pernicious pressure on employees of all levels that the employer allowed to persist, and whether consciously or not exploits.
This is the third article in a six-part series of posts that explores this more:
- The benefits of equity, workplace inclusion, and workforce diversity and what’s going wrong.
- Why it’s going wrong
- What’s not being discussed and the elephant in the room
- Corporate conflicts of interest
- Personal conflicts of interest
- Conclusions and actions
What’s not being discussed.
Missing from much of the analysis, however, is the people who are involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives and how the flow of accountability and responsibility is set-up.
Let’s consider the stakeholders involved:
- Members of the board, or advisory board, including non-executive directors.
- The CEO and other C-Suite executives.
- Executive sponsors of groups (e.g. disability, returning mums, LGBT+).
- The HR Director.
- The Diversity and Inclusion lead.
- The Diversity and Inclusion implementation team (where relevant).
- External consultants or advisors.
- Leaders of the employee resource group.
- Members of the employee resource groups.
- All other employees.
The different dynamics relevant to each of these stakeholder groups, and how to manage them, will be explored in a future article.
Before moving onto the critical underlying issue here are 6 specific questions to work with:
- Metrics: Are there clear metrics in place to hold senior stakeholders to account?
- Resource: Is the workforce diversity and workplace inclusion role full-time?
- Seniority: Is the workforce diversity and workplace inclusion lead sufficiently senior and experienced?
- Dependency on diversity: Are you inappropriately expecting your “diverse individuals” to deliver change?
- Delegation: Has the delivery of change been delegated to those with insufficient influence and authority – too low in the organisation, or an external consultant?
- Budget: Is the budget proportional to the change expected and required for such a strategic change program?
These are such fundamental points that it begs a question.
For what other strategically important change initiatives would the board and c-suite of a company be willing to accept this situation? Where there’s no accountability and no clear line of responsibility. Where it’s not possible to track actual time spent on the activity. And, where there’s a dependency on employee’s deciding for themselves whether they’re going to work on it?
Those are all valid and extremely serious factors. All of those involved in equity, inclusion, and diversity initiatives should be discussing those openly with senior executives and ensuring that they are addressed.
However, there’s something far more sinister and divisive underneath these which is undermining the ability to make progress.
The elephant in the room is much more personal – it’s the embedded conflicts of interest.
It’s the shameful corporate reality that never gets discussed.
Catch up on all of the other parts that make up this blog series below:
Steven has extensive experience in strategic executive leadership having led large business units at Fujitsu. Steven has had full and operational delivery responsibility for $1bn annual revenue business, including sales / growth, of full-service range (consultancy and change programmes, to operational IT services) to multiple clients. Leading business through changes in strategic direction, crisis management, transformational turnarounds especially those delivering business critical services to clients such as Public Sector / National Government. Steven engages well with C-suite executives and senior stakeholders, including in previous roles with UK Government Cabinet Ministers.