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  • Being more inclusive makes good business sense
  • Being more inclusive makes good business sense
    Midia NINJA, Creative Commons (2017) ©

Why organisations should invest in diversity

Gen Z may be the most diverse generation yet, but minority groups in the UK and US continue to face discrimination – so developing effective ways to include disadvantaged groups is more pressing than ever. Canvas8 spoke to June Sarpong, author of Diversify, to uncover the benefits of inclusivity.

Location Global

When British broadcaster June Sarpong was working in Las Vegas, she met a young man whose gang-affiliated tattoos belied a passion for sound engineering and the arts. As a woman of colour, Sarpong was used to encountering discrimination, but hadn’t realised that she also possessed subconscious biases against certain groups of people that dictated how she treated them. “You’re going to come up against this everywhere you go,” she says, placing herself in the man’s shoes. “At what point does that break you?”

Her experience prompted her to write Diversify, which aims to reveal how greater cultural inclusion can have vast social – and financial – benefits. The book reads as a cross-section of the circumstances and perspectives that lead to discrimination against society’s most disenfranchised groups – from young Muslim men to disabled individuals to women, even those as visibly successful as Sarpong. Partnering with Oxford University and the LSE, Sarpong’s research highlights the problem of discrimination with data-backed points and proposes solutions at the individual level. Each chapter finishes with an ‘action point’, a key takeaway for the reader to try to incorporate into their own lives.

The book also features a quiz, the ‘Six Degrees of Integration’, which people can use to think about and identify their latent ‘-isms’ – racism, ableism, sexism. Even the most open-minded of people may have their Sarpong moment, confronted by a situation where their subconscious biases are brought to light. Given the increasingly fragmented and polarised state of today’s world, Diversify considers how people can begin to connect with those unlike them. Canvas8 spoke to June Sarpong – whose experience also encompasses advocacy work, from being an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust to founding her own organisation, Women: Inspiration & Enterprise – to understand how brands and people alike can adopt inclusive policies.


Why does integration matter?
A team of researchers at Oxford University created an ‘ism’ calculator, which presents readers with questions that challenge their beliefs on various groups, issues, and society. If your social group looks, thinks and believes similarly to you, chances are that your view of the world is a linear one. By checking your circle, you can identify the gaps; where are the others that are not in your circle? How can you create a new connection to bring others into that circle?

Race is one of the conversations that most people are most uncomfortable around, but racist points of view are still widespread; a 2014 survey found that 22% of Europeans think some races or ethnic groups are born less intelligent than others, while 47% think some races or ethnic groups are born harder working than others. [1] And if you look at disability, the statistics are just shocking; one in five people in the UK have a disability, with learning disabilities alone affecting 1.4 million, of whom only 6% are in work. [2] We would never accept those sort of stats in any other group, and currently there are over one million people seeking employment who can’t find work because of their disability. [3]

So, how do we integrate members of society that have something valuable to offer and enable them to contribute to the best of their ability? Certain sectors are beginning to get things right. For example, the SAB Foundation has set a target to have 20% of its tech workforce to be on the autism spectrum by 2030. It is actively seeking out those with autism because when it comes to complex coding this is a community that has shown demonstrable strength with that sort of work.

Prejudice impacts large parts of the population Prejudice impacts large parts of the population
Annie Spratt, Creative Commons (2017) ©

Investing in diversity
We are losing out on vast amounts of talent by not being inclusive, and to create a truly inclusive workforce, it does mean that we have to have those difficult conversations. It means we have to look at ourselves honestly – but in doing so, we all benefit. Many communities have been forgotten and ignored, and those with the platforms or resources to do so need to look at how they go out, seek those communities, train those communities, and create a talent pipeline so it is not all the same moving forward.

At a business level, people need to consider diversity from within. In 2018, the Oxford and LSE research teams will release a white paper that demonstrates how diversity is good for business. Let me make it clear that this isn’t altruism – this makes sense, this is good for your bottom line. There are various groups in society that we are so comfortable with excluding, but there is potential locked within them all. According to research from LSE, maintaining the status quo and refusing to invest further in inclusion and diversity costs the UK £127 billion per year. [1]

People often talk about corporate social responsibility in a global or nationwide sense, but businesses have a responsibility to make their immediate area and community better. Sometimes, the solutions are deceptively simple; maybe it is a case that the business decides it is going to sponsor a local school and provide mentorship opportunities for students. In the UK, having a high-class background almost doubles a person’s chances of making it to the professional class, while 88% of people in the creative and media industries have worked for free at some point in their lives. [1][4] Mentorship could help close the gap by providing disadvantaged students with employable skills. If everybody commits to action at a manageable, community scale, we could see seismic change. It’s easy to think of this on the macro level, but once it is drilled down and you look at it on the micro level, if we are all doing our bit we can begin to move forward.

Diversity requires active engagement with marginalised groups Diversity requires active engagement with marginalised groups
Midia NINJA, Creative Commons (2017) ©

Creating individual legacies
I think the first thing which I advise any business that has over 50 people to do is a proper diversity audit, so that they know who they have got within an organisation, what level they are at, how long they have been there, and what their progression has been in order to map how power and access is currently distributed. The second is to decide the target you want to reach. When it comes to inclusion, most people don’t like targets, but it’s funny how we would never say that where money is concerned.

I believe in affirmative action, and goals like this are an important way to ensure that companies are doing as much as they can to include disadvantaged groups. In 1997, the Labour party introduced all-women shortlists and there was uproar, but it was the only thing that worked. There is a whole generation of female politicians that were able to rise through that process who would not have had the opportunity had affirmative action not existed

Often, with legacy, we only think of that in terms of leadership. But even if an individual doesn’t hold much hierarchical power in a business, they ought to feel agency over what their imprint can be

Think of it the same way that investing in new technologies moves a business forward. Practically speaking, companies can host workshops in small groups and create safe, judgement-free spaces for debate. Leaders can make sure they’re encouraging people to propose novel ideas and that everyone is heard. It’s important to ensure that everyone – from reception to HR to middle management – is equipped to consider: does this person have an idea? Is this the kind of person that should be in this organisation and nurtured in the way that gives them agency over the circumstances that have limited their power?

It is also about making sure people have an idea of what they want their legacy to be. Often, with legacy, we only think of that in terms of leadership. But even if an individual doesn’t hold much hierarchical power in a business, they ought to feel agency over what their imprint can be. They can think to themselves, ‘Since I have been in this organization, it has become a fairer place’ – which is a great legacy to have.

Inclusive environments foster innovative ideas Inclusive environments foster innovative ideas
Michael Benz, Creative Commons (2017) ©

Insights and opportunities
According to McKinsey, racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to have returns above national industry medians, while Deloitte found that “diverse companies see 2.3 times the cash flow per employee when compared to their less diverse peers.” [5] “By 2051, one in five people in the UK will be from an ethnic minority background, representing a scale of consumer spending and political voting power that business and government alike cannot afford to ignore,” says Sandra Kerr, the CEO of Race for Opportunity. [6]

“The real reason you want to pursue diversity programs is for innovation,” says Richard Boyatzis, professor in organisational behaviour, psychology, and cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University, considering how diverse workforces are better equipped to develop innovation across sectors. “If you want diversity of thought, you have to bring in people around you who have diverse experiences… How do you come up with innovative ideas unless you have a spectrum of ideas to examine?” [7] It’s a concept that’s in-keeping with the fact that Gen Y see diversity as much more than corporate social responsibility, perceiving it as the key to building success and generating new ideas; 86% believe that differences of opinion allow teams to excel, but only 59% think their leaders feel the same way. [8]

Decades of activism have brought gender issues to the fore, and while the gender pay gap remains a stark reality, Gen Yers have come to expect leaders to exhibit empathy and emotional intelligence, previously looked down upon as ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ behaviours. “Rather than stepping into the male template,” writes Sarpong. “What does success on female terms look like? How will women redefine the attributes society considers successful, and how will we select what those attributes are?” [1] Diversify prompts us to consider how different perspectives can redefine success, turning it into a more inclusive metric that benefits society at large.

June Sarpong MBE is one of the most recognisable faces of British television. In addition to 20 years of television work, she has worked extensively with HRH Prince Charles as an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust. She is the co-founder of Women: Inspiration & Enterprise and in 2007 was awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting and charity.

Alex Quicho is Canvas8’s Americas editor. Born in Boston and raised in Manila, she loves to read and write about art, power, and the future. She has a master’s degree in critical writing from the Royal College of Art.

Related behaviours
New Majorities: Minorities are pushing for better representation
Shared Values: People expect brands to rise to society’s challenges

1. 'Diversify: Six Degrees of Integration', June Sarpong(October 2017)
2. 'Research and statistics', Mencap
3. 'A million futures: halving the disability employment gap', Scope (April 2014)
4. 'Survey', Panic! (2015)
5. 'Only 3% of Fortune 500 companies share full diversity data', Fortune (June 2017)
6. 'Race at the top', Business in the Community (June 2014)
7. 'What do leaders need to understand about diversity?', Yale Insights (January 2011)
8. 'Millennials have a different definition of diversity and inclusion', Fast Company (May 2015)


Alex Quicho is Canvas8’s Americas editor. Born in Boston and raised in Manila, she loves to read and write about art, power, and the future. She has a master’s degree in critical writing from the Royal College of Art.