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 sixth and final 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
In Conclusion, and Actions.
The consequences of the above 6 conflicts of interest are profound. These systemic conflicts undermine progress on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Failing to address denies a company the opportunity to make the meaningful and sustained progress that is needed.
This issue creates a distorted internal and external perspective of what it is like to work at a company. That undermines existing employee’s ability to excel and misleads potential recruits.
Board members and C-suite executives should urgently acknowledge this major issue and intervene to address it:
- Create psychological safety for staff at all levels in a company and measure progress. Allow employees to raise difficult topics and for them to see action being taken.
- Show how issues are handled without negative consequences, and positively reward speaking up.
- Make yourselves available through direct feedback and engagement events.
- Be prepared to speak publicly about the not-so-good news, and what is being done about it, as well as the good news. Leaders are increasingly expected to demonstrate authenticity.
- Use governance to ensure feedback mechanisms are used, meaningful action plans are developed, and progress is tracked.
- Provide access to an online safe place, such as Equativo, to empower and enable employees. Allow employees to safely engage with HR and executives, anonymously if necessary, to seek guidance, co-develop solutions, and raise concerns.
There is much to be done to deliver equity in employment. Until these personal conflicts of interest are resolved that progress will be slow, and possibly never achieved.
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.