With disruption comes growth

29 Mar

Diversity and inclusion has shot up the priority list of many C-Suite executives over the last few years partly helped by gender pay gap reporting, partly helped by movements like #metoo and partly by the so-called war on talent. A common complaint I often hear is that despite all of the effort businesses are putting into creating inclusive cultures they are not seeing the needle shift on the diversity of their workforce or as rapidly as they had hoped. In my opinion, we will only see the needle shift when businesses are being a lot more disruptive.


Even when I talk to organisations that are doing great things in building inclusive workplaces there are so many of them that are #diverseish — a hashtag coined by The Valuable 500 campaign. The campaign coined this adjective to mean “selectively inclusive of some types of people within a company, group or business, depending on which type suits the company best”. I’ve worked for organisations personally that have told me that disability inclusion is not a priority for them or it’s earmarked for “next year” because the focus right now is on getting more women into senior leadership roles. This is not inclusion. This is diverseish. As a disabled person and as a Diversity and Inclusion Architect this is hard to swallow. Business leaders stick to what they know, what feels safe and they are not disrupting the status quo.

Diverseish film

Businesses that are not #diverseish understand the holistic suite of diversity and inclusion business cases. They respect the legal case (to operate within the Equality Act 2010), the financial case (diverse organisations are more profitable) and the talent case (there are so many people with huge potential that are overlooked in recruitment and promotions). I get particularly excited about organisations that understand the innovation case. They understand that to solve the world’s toughest problems, to create outstanding products and exceptional experiences they need to radically innovate. They understand that they cannot radically innovate by hiring more people that look and act like themselves. They take a risk. They hire that person who might not be a “cultural fit”. They promote that person who doesn’t quite have all the skills required for a new role but can see their potential. They take on a disabled employee who may need some additional support but know it is well worth the investment of time.

Graffiti saying “Together we create” on a wall

Design for disruption

I often find that businesses are not “setup” to be disruptive. We are relying on certain individuals to be disruptive. Relying on the manager to circumnavigate the recruitment rules to hire an outstanding autistic software engineer. The senior executive to find a pot of money to “secretly” invest in an idea. This is not sustainable. It is not future proofing the business.

Businesses need to design for disruption. If they are frustrated about not getting diverse candidates entering the business they have to overhaul their recruitment process. Finding different ways to allow people to demonstrate their potential to them. If growth is slow then they should consider which customers they have not yet tapped into. It might be time to collaborate with 20% of the population who are disabled or have an impairment to innovate. My favourite most recent example is ThisAbles project, which started as a hackathon that brought together engineers and people with disabilities to work on ideas at an IKEA store. IKEA have since released a set of furniture hacks that anyone can download and 3D-print to make their products more usable. Who on earth doesn’t want more usable products?

If you want the power of diversity to drive innovation and creativity. And if you want inclusion to make you stand out from the crowd as the best place to work. And if you want to get there faster than your competitors it’s time to be disruptive. It won’t be easy but it’s well worth the investment of your time.

About the author

Toby Mildon helps companies be more inclusive of the diverse UK talent pool and breadth of human experience by reengineering business processes and addressing cultural barriers. Before establishing his own D&I practice Toby served as D&I Manager for Deloitte and the BBC. Toby is also a qualified Corporate & Executive Coach and NLP Practitioner with Neuroscience. Toby has over a decade of management experience on international projects working with the BBC, Accenture, British Airways, Cerner, Vodafone, Microsoft, BT and Ofcom.

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