While there are lots of lessons to learn from the pandemic, its disproportionate effect on ethnic minorities, marginalised communities and women has shone a light on inequality in our country, and highlighted how much work there is still to be done.
So, when it comes to taking action on this inequality, the catch all boardroom term “diversity” often fails to do justice to the scale of it. Too often it can be reduced to simplistic measures, or well-meaning but ultimately performative attempts to prove “we’re one of the good ones, honest.” Black or rainbow squares on Instagram are an important signifier of solidarity, but allies are the ones who turn up – every day.
The gap between an acceptance that “something must be done” and taking action can still be a large one, which we see across the population the world over, let alone within organisations
The business case for tackling inequality and improving diversity – be it improving the gender or ethnicity balance, being LGBTIQA+ inclusive, or considerate of education in organisations – is long won. Research reports are plentiful about the positive impact on performance, outcomes, wellbeing and the bottom line, triple or otherwise.
Right now, as we emerge from this pandemic – and mindful that there may be others – is the time for directors and leaders in the boardroom to commit to the work that is required to make it happen. And I use that phrase “do the work” deliberately, because there can be no shortcuts to this.
And we recognise this within the IoD, too. We’re holding a mirror up to ourselves and dedicating time and effort to become an inclusive, diverse organisation; a community for members from all backgrounds. But like others, we must be willing to go to uncomfortable places, have difficult conversations and challenge current ways of working (and thinking).
Inequalities will remain until we confront the cultural and institutional factors that create and sustain them. We all need to put Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work at the heart of strategic planning; commit to accountable metrics and transparent scrutiny; and make it a priority as leaders to ensure every one of our employees feel respected, safe and acknowledged within the workplace. This is on top of the other priorities that may pull our attention on a daily basis – we have to take ownership of it.
The best organisations, the ones who are reaping the benefits of diversity, are the ones where their leaders are at the helm of the inclusion effort. Every member of the so-called “C-Suite” needs to be trained and supported to have a DEI competence and a deep understanding of the structural nature of inequality – structures that cannot be changed by thoughtlessly asking those who have lived experience to “share their stories” and expose the personal injustices they have faced time and time again.
“Doing the work” means we cannot expect those who suffer the pernicious effects of inequality to be the ones who fix it. “Doing the work” means going beyond performative actions. “Doing the work” requires compassion, empathy and authentic leadership.
There are great organisations out there who can help – Close the Gap are experts on women and the workplace; Enable is delivering inspiring programmes through their Enable Works activity; and Radiant and Brighter are delivering high quality training whilst supporting skilled immigrant communities.
We don’t under-estimate the distance we have to go, not only as the IoD, but within the Scottish business community too. We have started our journey and we very much welcome fellow travellers in boardrooms across Scotland.
Louise Macdonald is national director of IoD Scotland