October 21, 2018

Brexit and Workplace Diversity

Stephen Frost

Our blogger today is Stephen Frost who is a globally renown diversity, inclusion and leadership expert.  In 2012 he founded Frostincluded.com.

Stephen works with clients to embed inclusive leadership in their decision-making. He worked in-house at KPMG as Head of Diversity and Inclusion from 2014-15 and from 2007-2012 Stephen designed, led and implemented the inclusion programmes for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games as Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the London Organising Committee (LOCOG).



There is now fairly conclusive evidence of a link between diversity and business performance.  If you don’t increase the gene pool, you restrict the ability to come up with new ideas and serve new markets.

So will Brexit limit the gene pool?

A survey conducted last week suggests that in making their decisions on Brexit, voters are biased in favour of more alarmist claims (emanating more from the Leave camp) and less responsive to more moderate claims (emanating more from the Remain camp).

If Brexit restricts business access to talent and to markets then by definition it may be bad for business, especially entrepreneurs seeking new ideas or at a critical juncture in their evolution. But more than that, the negative, anti-diversity noise around Brexit may actually damage the business case for diversity.  In this sense it may lower people’s propensity to even want to increase the gene pool or enter new markets in the first place.

It is this real plus additional perceived damage to business diversity that is perhaps most worrying.  If we don’t create and nurture a culture where an inclusive and diverse workforce is viewed in a positive light then the business benefits of diversity simply won’t follow. Recruiting people is like a love affair.  There has to be attraction on both sides.  Just as in love, we are irrational, yet we try and appear rational and frequently give verbose justifications for our sometimes questionable decisions.

Just as in love, there are problems.  In one sense, the whole process of recruitment is a process of discrimination.  We reject those we find unattractive, who we don’t want to associate with, people that will lower our brand or status. But more than ever, an organisation’s recruitment efforts need to be focused on gaining the additional competitive advantage that comes from a different perspective, different thought or different background.  Anything that harms this is harmful to business.

We tend to recruit in our own image.  Our natural tendency is recruit people like us because they are the ones that ‘get it’.  In this sense, Brexit simply indulges our pre-existing unconscious biases.  It allows us a false sense of security, comfort in being around people like us.  But if you believe in the business case for diversity then this is exactly the opposite of what we require.

A Partner in a professional services firm admitted privately how he had hired an average male partner.  When asked why, he responded that, “the guy had been through so many rounds, met so many people, and it had all been going on so long”.  Upon further enquiry, it turns out that the male candidate was originally referred to the firm by a friend in the firm, upon his redundancy from another job.  It was a case of the old boy network, a mate helping out a mate.  He had indeed been though so many rounds but all the rounds had been 1-1 interviews with other male partners.  None of them had thought he was brilliant but all of them had thought he was a nice chap.  So rather than make a decision they kept referring him on and on and on hoping that the next interviewer would make a decision.

This is fine for a night out with your mates down the pub, but it is absolutely not fine for rigorous commercial decision-making.  Brexit may give us comfort in remaining with our ‘own kind’ but if it restricts actual talent and market access, and moreover, if it indulges our existing biases, then it is simply bad for business.

Stephen is author of The Inclusion Imperative: How Real Inclusion Creates Better Business and Builds Better Societies. THe inclusion imperative

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