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How can business truly embed inclusion into the way it operates?

Diversity’ thinking and practice hasn’t evolved enough over the last decade and that’s one of the reasons business is struggling to understand or act on it.

Diversity is a reality, inclusion is a choice. There are three main paradigms before us today; Diversity 101 (compliance based change), Diversity 2.0 (marketing-led change) and real inclusion (Inclusion 3.0, a systems approach). Whereas a few organisations have moved on from Diversity 101 and a few from Diversity 2.0, many are still stuck in a compliance or marketing-led paradigm that is ill equipped to deal with current commercial realities. In the United States, Diversity 101 is still the dominant paradigm.

London 2012 was the first organisation to truly embed inclusion 3.0 throughout the entire organisation. The results of this inclusive culture and gender-balanced leadership were displayed on a world stage for all to see, from the diverse Games Makers to the transparency of the suppliers to the inclusive customer service to 16 million ticket holders.

So what practical steps can business leaders take to improve diversity in the workplace?

One, be brave – it’s scary to challenge the norm and received wisdom in a culture but often this is a necessary step. Simon Collins, KPMG UK Chairman has done this in a recent interview in the Guardian, admitting that we are not where we want to be in terms of diversity.

“One: be brave”

How refreshingly candid. The gender diversity of the population is not represented in the workforce and our data unequivocally demonstrates that. I’m proud that KPMG has decided to be brave and transparent and share its data on sexual orientation, disability and ethnicity as well as gender with the public and market place. This shows where we are and more importantly our targets demonstrate where we want to be. Beyond ethics or any moral argument, this is a question of efficient and effective management or people and we are determined to improve.

Two, be creative. Rather than tackle issues head on and make enemies, partner intelligently with people who will not have a perceived vested interest in the ‘agenda’ — so men talking about gender equality and straight allies talking about LGBT issues and so forth.

“Two: be creative”

And whatever you do, avoid ‘initiatives’ because they tend to soak up time and money, divorced from the real business or purpose-led centre of the organisation. Better to embed inclusive decision-making in the system, rather than waste time decorating the tree. So we have fewer initiatives now than we did and more systematic change.

An example would be how we recruit, changing from a linear system to a balanced approach that allows for diverse ways of thinking and doesn’t filter out brilliance and impose conformity on our candidates. I think our drive to honest conversations allows people to truly bring their whole selves to work and this is far better for productivity than any training programme.

“Three: focus on talent”

Three, relentlessly focus on talent. Talent is consistently one of the top three issues on the global CEO agenda and diversity and inclusion and talent management, when done well, is the same thing.


Stephen Frost, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, KPMG and Author, The Inclusion Imperative

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