Build Inclusive Cultures by Doing the Right Thing

For this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, I was joined by Nadya Powell, the founding partner of Utopia, an award-winning diversity, equity, inclusion and culture change business. Utopia was founded in 2017 on the belief that businesses could be better. Today they help clients around the globe create inclusive and healthy workplaces.

My brief introduction to Utopia doesn’t do justice to the great work that Nadya and her team do so I asked her, ‘Could you let us know a bit more about who you are, what you do, and what your business is all about?’

‘I’m Nadya Powell. I’m a 47-year-old White straight cis woman without any disabilities currently. I also identify strongly as someone who comes from a working-class background and a very trauma-based working-class background, which we will not go into since we’re going to talk about business today. But the reason why I mentioned that is because I fell into the DEI space accidentally and purposefully.

I had a very enjoyable and successful career in marketing and advertising for many years. I went through the dot com crash for those old enough to remember it. When I had children, I came back into the workplace and I looked around me and I saw that I had suddenly become a minority.

I’d never been a minority, as I’ve just described myself, there are many White straight cis women in business. But I suddenly discovered as a minority and I reflected on a conversation I’d had with my Aunty Harriet. Now my Aunty Harriet is very important to me because she was a feminist in the ’70s and ’80s and she ran a theatre troupe. When I was about 15, I remember I was in the car with her and I said, “Dear Aunty Harriet, you can stop now. We don’t need any more of this feminism stuff. The world is very, very equal and wonderful and I’m doing fine. So do you know what, all you feminists can just take a little bit, step back and we can just get on with the world because it’s all good.” And I jumped to the age of 32 and I’m just like, “Oh my word, I am so naive.” I had not been seeing things that I should be seeing. Because I suddenly realised that I had become a minority, I then did lots of different projects. I did a project called Millennial Mentoring where I worked with young people at Hackney Community College who came from low socioeconomic backgrounds. I saw that the chances of them getting the sort of jobs I’d had because I’d had some really lucky breaks in my teens and twenties were very low just because of their circumstances of birth.

I then did some work around the great British Diversity Experiment. I started to see how so many different marginalised individuals were not being given the opportunities or the equity to thrive in business, whether that’s somebody with a disability or somebody of colour. I then did something called Christmas So White, when I realised even the algorithms within Google were presenting this White heteronormative without a disability world. It was a big moment for me because I’d gone from this being, “La la la isn’t life wonderful? Yes, life was quite hard for me when I was younger, but it’s all good now,” to thinking, “This just isn’t right. This just isn’t right. The world is deeply unfair, deeply inequitable.”

My marketing work suddenly started to fade into insignificance from being a brilliant career. I’d loved it. It was so much fun but in 2016 I left that world. In 2017 I founded Utopia, again, I think slightly naively, and that has been a constant theme of my life. But naivety sometimes means that you do things that you would never normally do. And as you said, Toby, in the introduction we founded it with the belief that businesses needed to be better. I was meeting people more and more and more who were made to feel that they didn’t fit in, they didn’t belong, or they weren’t right. They needed to change or they weren’t even allowed through the door. It just wasn’t okay. And the mental health impact of that exclusion just wasn’t okay. And it was their brilliance that businesses were missing out on.

Fast forward to today. So yes, at Utopia we work with awesome businesses such as Procter & Gamble or Coca-Cola Europacific Partners or Spotify or Google – many different businesses. Our main focus is on creating and working towards a thriving world where everybody gets to feel like they belong in business no matter who they are.’

I find what Nadya says so inspiring because I’ve set up my own diversity and inclusion consultancy and we’ve got a very similar mission and vision.

Nadya added. ‘You’ve probably got what we call “survivor’s mission”. For me, it really sums it up. I feel like I survived my first 20 years which were very problematic. Having survived that I feel like my mission is to make sure that other people don’t have to survive that kind of thing. I say, “The reason why I do this is I’ve got a survivor’s mission.” Hopefully some people just don’t have to survive prejudice at work because it’s not happening.’

That’s not a phrase I’ve come across before and it does resonate with me. I think there’s some truth to that for me too. As somebody who’s disabled, I’ve faced my own barriers in trying to get into the workplace or get ahead in the workplace. And I don’t want the next generation of disabled people to have to experience similar barriers. So that’s a really useful phrase.

Nadya specialises in culture and works with senior leaders. She knows a lot about what senior leaders should be doing on this journey and the conditions that are needed to make real change. I am going to ask Nadya to share some practical things, how leaders could be more aware of their blind spots and how to check in with their own privilege, but we started at the beginning and the basics with me asking Nadya to explain what Allyship is.

‘Allyship is active. It is not good enough to see something or hear something and go, Oh, that wasn’t right, that made me feel uncomfortable,” or, “that person shouldn’t have said something,” or, “that person shouldn’t have done something.” Allyship is where you are not a bystander and you intervene in whichever way possible.

If you are a leader, you take actions to drive equity within your business. I think often Allyship is seen as if you hear a microaggression you should intervene. Yes, 100% it is that. That’s day-to-day Allyship. But when we’re in the business world and when we’re leaders, it’s about going, “Okay, let’s take a look at this recruitment process. At the moment everyone we’re hiring seems to have a very similar demographic. They’re fitting into the dominant majority. I’m going to talk to my recruitment people about that and I’m going to challenge them to diversify our recruitment.” Or saying, “We are doing the talent identification and succession planning for next year. And when we look at our succession planning, then we’ll match the dominant majority. So as a leader, I will challenge my HR leaders and my people managers and ask, “Have we got the right criteria? Are we just cookie-cuttering all our people that we have and doing culture fit rather than culture add?”

It’s about taking definitive action to drive equity through a business, not just delegating it to HR and going, “Oh, I’m done.” Or delegating it to people like us and saying, “Oh, well the externals are going to sort it out.” It’s about, as a leader, taking real, genuine action to drive change. I think often leaders think, “Well, I don’t have the answers.” You don’t need to have the answers, you just need to ask the right questions. The answers can come from your HR team or your DEI team or from externals, but it’s up to you as a leader to be asking the right questions just like you do when you look at the numbers or you look at the marketing plan or you look at the sales forecasts.’

What Nadya says reminds me when I do inclusive leadership training, I talk to people about Simon Sinek’s model, “Start With the Why”, the book that he wrote. He says that it’s the responsibility of leaders to start with the why and then empower other senior managers to figure out the how and then enable everybody else in the business to figure out what needs to be produced. Many organisations actually start from the outside-in. They start with the what. They get really busy chasing their tails, organising all sorts of events, but they don’t know why inclusion is important for the future success of their business.

Nadya agreed. ‘I think that’s what we see as well, all the time. A classic for me is a lot of businesses will go, “Oh, let’s set up ERGs. We need employee resource groups. We need a DEI ambassador network,” because they think they should have one. And they think, when they look at their little box of DEI things, it’s missing. So, they’ll set it up and yes, they might do some really good events, but very quickly the ERG members ask, “Why are we doing this? What’s the objective?” And leadership aren’t bought in. They’re not supporting them. We always say, if you do want to activate your people, and that is a really powerful thing to do in DEI, you’ve got to know why. You’ve got to set them up with some clear objectives, some resources, some rewards. You can’t just ask marginalised people to solve the problems that they didn’t cause.

For me that’s a classic part of leadership, asking the right questions. For example, “Okay, why aren’t our employees engaged day to day in DEI? Well, the why might be because there are no ERGs. To the question, “Why would we need an ERG?” The answer is because only then are you going to get proper Allyship.

Hopefully, this is helpful for everybody out there. I described myself at the beginning, and as a woman in business, it’s very easy to identify very strongly as a marginalised individual. Also because of my background, coming from a low socio-economic background and a trauma-based background, I very much felt like I was an outsider. I was other, I was different. I didn’t fit in. And that became a big part of my identity. It defined me. The challenge was, and this comes back to the naivety, when I was doing DEI work in the beginning or when I was interfacing with my amazing team, I was often centring my perceptions of thoughts of marginalisation on my lived experience.

I would often feel that I knew a lot, that I understood what it felt to be marginalised and that my opinion on DEI was the most important in the room because I had that perspective. And I see that a lot in women who have a similar makeup to me because we are told repeatedly, especially at my age, we’re told over and over again that we are marginalised, that we are experiencing discrimination and prejudice. It becomes a big part of our identity. As I started to do more complex and more sophisticated DEI work and go on a very personal journey, there was one moment where I felt like the reality of the world was removed from my eyes. I started to understand that my experience of marginalisation was my experience. It is not generic. It is not applicable to every sense, every situation. Also, it’s really not the most important in the room depending on the conversation.

Obviously, if it’s very much a White female discussion, then my perspective is quite important. But I don’t have a right to talk and lead sessions, which are about racism. I don’t have a right, and this may sound obvious, but I see it happening over and over again where women who look like me are trying to own lead and dominate spaces where they just shouldn’t belong. I don’t have a right to own a space which is around disability. I can understand the levers that need to change within a business, but I don’t have the nuance of understanding that can bring the real intimacy to the solution that will make a powerful solution. So, for me, one of my biggest, biggest lessons around Allyship is to make space and to not take up space. I’ve always had this one line in my life, which is my guiding value, which is to do the right thing.

Whenever I get stuck, when anything is complicated, I just ask, “Okay, what’s the right thing?”
I don’t care if I have to block off all the noise from everywhere else, I have to do the right thing and make space. I am naturally quite a dominant personality. I’m a big personality for people who have met me. But being humble and understanding that some of the nuances of experience are so important to understand and if you have a loud voice, you could be inadvertently silencing those nuances.

One example of this is when I was on a call with one of my team members, Wagu, who is LGBTQ. The client was asking us to come up with a solution around an LGBTQ+ topic. I immediately go into, “We could do this. We could do this. We could do this.” I’m looking at it top-down because I’m a leader and that’s my experience. Then Wagu comes in with three other suggestions, which I would never have seen or thought of because they came from his real nuanced understanding of the topic.

It was the combination of me and him that made for brilliance. My golden rule is that if we’re talking about a very specific topic if somebody from that community is not in the room, then we’re not going to talk about that topic. Now that’s really hard. If you’re a DEI leader in an organisation and you are the only person, often they’re very isolated roles. I’ve got many clients who are DEI leaders globally and they’re the only one. The majority of DEI leaders we work with are White women. Sometimes they’re LGBTQ, and sometimes they may have a disability, but they are typically White women. Building that nuance is hard because people are looking at you to lead all the time. In this instance, my advice is to find your allies. Again, I think there’s a phrase in the disabled community, which is nothing about us without us.’

I’m just going to apologise now for what I’m going to say because it might sound a bit mean, but I think there is a particular violence that White women, White straight cis without disability, women can undertake because we have such a strong identification with marginalisation. We really can have the tendency to silence people. And I hear that especially from women of colour, that they find their biggest barriers to inclusion are not the White straight men in the building. It’s the White straight women. The White straight women try and identify with them and try and say, “Yeah, I get it. I understand that.”

I can’t ever understand what racism feels like. I can have empathy for the impact, but I cannot ever understand it. So that humbleness for me is absolutely key to allyship and that real mantra, nothing about us without us.

I thanked Nadya for sharing her personal journey and learnings with us there. I agree with her that nothing should ever happen in this space without the community that it impacts being integral with their voices having equal, if not more weight than the culture change experts, or the discipline experts that might be in the room.

A lot of people that listen to this podcast are senior leaders. We get a lot of heads of HR, chief people officers and company directors who are running departments. I asked Nadya what she would share with senior leaders about what they should do to become an ally for underrepresented people within their own organisation.

‘I think the first point will be what I already mentioned, which is to think about what you’re not seeing because of your lived experience. There will be many, many things which you just don’t understand are happening. Something that a senior leader will often say to me is, “Well there’s no racism in my organisation.” I’m like, “But no one will be racist to you because you’re White and you’re a leader, so how would you know it’s not happening?”

Or they’ll say, “Well, we are a really LGBTQ+ inclusive building.” And I’m just like, “Well, how do you know how your trans people are feeling? Or how your non-binary people are feeling, or how your intersex people are feeling? “

They might reply, “We’ve done an accessibility audit and we know that we’re very accessible as a building.” And I’ll be like, “But how does that translate culturally?” So, think, what do you not know? Ask those questions. And you will probably realise that you don’t know a lot. Look at your data. Data generally has a horrible hole in it. It tends to be from engagement surveys by agenda and then by department. All the other marginalised voices aren’t being heard. How can you hand on heart, say you don’t have a problem if you haven’t been listening?

As leaders, really think about what you are not seeing. Then what can you not know because you don’t have the data? Collecting the data can seem really, really scary. It’s actually really, really easy. We do a DEI people audit and it’s very straightforward to get the data. You just need to be brave and do it. That’s the only hurdle. If you’re in multiple locations, there are ways you can get something like that to work, whether it’s in France or Germany or the UK. For me, that’s a big thing. Take ownership. This isn’t an HR issue. It’s not a DEI issue. It’s a culture issue. If your culture is not inclusive, then your people are not performing to their best. And due to technology, businesses are only as good as the brains of their people. And if the brains of their people are not being made to feel safe, included, able to be creative and innovative, then your business is not as good as it could be. So as leaders, it’s your responsibility to ensure you have an equitable and inclusive culture. It’s not someone else’s.

To your previous point, Toby, you can make the how about your leaders. And you can make the what about your people, but you have got to take ownership of the why. I often talk about the hourglass of change. I love talking about the hourglass of change because it’s deeply unsexy, but I still think it’s quite nice. If as a leader you are doing the why, you’re asking the right questions, you’re starting to look into what you’re not seeing, you’re doing the data then you’re really starting to understand the situation.

If I was to try to solve the problem of how to make an organisation more disability-inclusive and more LGBTQ+ inclusive, I’ll go to quite simple quick fixes because I don’t have the nuance of understanding. Then you have to engage with your people for them to help you find a solution. Once you’ve got the data, once you’ve got the strategy, once you’re recognising these are our big challenges, this is where we need to go engage your people to help you solve them. You can do that through ERGs because when they work brilliantly, they are brilliant. So, you can engage with specific ERGs or engage with your ERG leaders and just say, “Look, we think we’ve got some real problems here, here and here. What do you think?” They all probably already know those problems exist. They just didn’t have hard data.

Then create that hourglass. You’ve got leadership driving it, clearing space, giving the resources and budget, really articulating the why. Then you’ve got your people who understand the challenges, define the solutions, and with your support, working them through.

The third thing I’d say is look at your governance infrastructure. Policies ultimately decide what happens or doesn’t happen in an organisation. A lot of policies are two-dimensional. I know organisations will do deep work on their menopause policy or their parental policy or their mental health and wellbeing policy. But they don’t tend to look at them holistically. They tend to look at just the DEI components. Whereas if you really want to get the scaffolding for an inclusive business, you need to be digging into your policies, auditing them and working out where they could be improved. Often improving your policies costs money, but that’s where you get the real sense of how serious a leader is. If you’re saying you’re going to make an inclusive culture, but you are not prepared to change your health insurance policy so that it’s trans-inclusive, then okay, are you really an inclusive organisation? So then look at that scaffolding. Look at the policies.

Nadya’s shared a great list of concrete things that a senior leader really should be thinking about, which I think is brilliant. Because Nadya and her agency are culture experts and change agents that help organisations transform I asked what conditions need to be put in place to make change effective.

‘I think one of the things I want to disrupt about conditions is that people think if they have an inclusive organisation, it’s going to be quiet. They think an inclusive organisation means everyone’s just wafting around being their identity. No one’s challenging them. And the organisation is just like a utopia. Hence why we’re called Utopia.

But that’s just not the case. An inclusive organisation is really noisy, noisy, noisy, noisy. We can’t stop all the prejudice and discrimination that’s happening in society from coming into our offices. We’re never going to have a workplace where microaggressions don’t happen, where prejudice doesn’t happen, where discrimination doesn’t happen. It’s a sad thing to say, but it’s true. We’re humans and we’re messy and if we try and ignore that or avoid that, we’re never going to solve anything. We have to just accept we’re humans and we’re messy and we come into the building with beliefs, with prejudices which are not always inclusive to everybody.

A core condition of creating a culture where change can happen is one which is psychologically safe. Somewhere people can share how they’re feeling. Something we hear all the time when you engage with ERGs is a person of colour will say, “Well I’ve raised this issue for five years, but I just get told I’m difficult. I get told I’m making a fuss about things. I get told it’s too expensive to do that.” We hear that a lot when it comes to disability inclusion.

But let’s just flip that. If you had to change something to let women into a building and you said it was too expensive, what do you think the headlines of a newspaper would say about that office doesn’t allow women into the building because it’s too expensive? It’s just not an acceptable thing to say or to think or believe. You want people to be able to say, “This needs to change. This isn’t right. I’m not happy about this. Somebody said this to me and it was upsetting.” Only through the noise can you solve things. It’s a bit like if you’re in marketing without understanding your consumers and your market, your marketing plans are going to be rubbish. It’s just the same in DEI. If you’re just met with silence and everyone’s just like, “Yeah, everything’s fine. I mean, yeah, totally fine. Yeah, ten people of colour did leave in the past year, but that’s just a coincidence. There’s no real reason.

If you’ve got that silence, then the condition is not there to drive inclusion. So, the work you need to do early on, and you can do this before the data and before the strategy even, is that you need to create a common language and understanding and a set of expectations around DEI so everyone understands what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

Create psychological safety and tools so that if someone does make a microaggression or does say something which is prejudicial, a conversation can be had there. It doesn’t need to be White or straight fragility of like, “I didn’t mean it. Oh my God, you must hate me. Don’t report it.” Instead, it needs to be “I’m so sorry. You are right. What I said was actually harmful and I’m just going to go and do some research and think about this and think about why it happened. And if you feel comfortable, I’d also love to have another conversation with you about it in the future. But totally if you don’t feel comfortable, I know it’s on me to educate myself.” You want those kinds of conversations to be happening all the time. So, for me, that’s one of the most important conditions that shared and common language and a base level of understanding combined with psychological safety and permission for people to say when things aren’t quite working and aren’t going well.

That will create lots of noise. As HR, noise often feels like it’s bad. You’re like, “Oh my god, there are lots of people saying something’s not right or something’s not happening.” But it’s not bad, it’s brilliant because it means people can authentically be themselves and they can thrive in the workplace. With that noise, you’re releasing all their creativity, all their innovation, all their passion. Whereas when you’ve got silence, then that is people holding back all their creativity, innovation and passion because they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel like they can be who they should be. So that’s a big condition for me.’

A model that I use a lot is in Patrick Lencioni’s book Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He’s basically got a pyramid with five layers and he has five dysfunctions. So, these are the things that a dysfunctional team has. And then he’s got the opposite of that, what a high-performing team would have. Trust is at the bottom of the pyramid. Lencioni says that a dysfunctional team has a mistrust of one another. That they don’t have psychological safety and that people don’t feel able to speak up. Therefore, they are held back, they’re silent and they can’t contribute. They can’t be creative as Nadya was saying. Higher up the pyramid, I think it’s at the peak, is accountability. Lencioni says in dysfunctional teams there’s no accountability. In the diversity and inclusion space, accountability is somebody saying, “You know what? I put my foot in it, I got it wrong. I’m going to learn from it. I’m sorry,” rather than getting defensive, which doesn’t help the situation at all.

Nadya agreed, adding ‘I would love to flip dysfunction here because for me there’s this norm of what a functioning team is, which is everyone’s polite, there’s no conflict. We all just have nice cups of tea together. The leaders are like iconic heroes and we don’t really speak to them. I’d love to do five elements of a dysfunctional team, as in not the norm. So, it’s really noisy, It’s quite hectic. Obviously, there’s structure, but there’s no hierarchy. Everyone can speak to each other because I think, especially in an Anglo-Saxon culture, we always see quiet and no conflict as success. No. Quiet and no conflict means everybody’s just agreeing with each other. Nothing’s changing, nothing’s developing. Obviously, you want kindness and compassion at the heart of every single team, not anger. But I’d love to say “I want dysfunctional teams” because I think what’s seen as functional nowadays is a nonsense. It’s a total nonsense, but I’m going to check that book out. It sounds brilliant.’

It’s funny Nadya says that because the second level of the Lencioni pyramid after trust is dysfunctional teams avoid conflicts. What the author’s saying, I guess, is that functional teams or high-performing teams have healthy conflict so that they feel able to challenge one another. They are able to have candid debates. I think that’s the terminology that he uses.

When Nadya was setting out her feelings on the topic, I was just thinking that I had a conversation with a client of mine one day and they were saying that they felt their culture was one of toxic positivity. I asked Nadya, ‘Have you come across that before?’

Nadya said she has, continuing, ‘That is such a problem when people say, “Everything’s fine, we are lovely, we love each other, it’s a lovely place.” It silences anyone who’s just like, “I’m unwell at the moment. I’m having a bad day, or I’ve experienced this toxic positivity.” I think this is a real leftover from what came out of the nineties, and the noughties and it’s still there. Actually, the most important thing is that people could just say the truth of what they’re thinking or feeling at any time. And sometimes that’s really difficult. I remember one client saying to me, this is ages ago, “Oh millennials are really hard because they always tell you what the problems are.”

And I was like, “Isn’t that amazing?” because you want to know what the problems are. If you don’t know what the problems are, they’re going to be there, whether someone says it or not, how are you going to solve them? It’s the same in DEI. If you don’t have people of colour saying, “No one believes I’m the leader of this team and I am the leader of this team,” or somebody who’s non-binary saying, “Nobody is getting my pronouns right. No one seems to understand what I’m trying to do and people are misgendering me all the time.” Or someone with a disability saying, “People are treating me like I’m the assistant, not the leader. How can you solve it? So that noise is just critical and toxic positivity is boo to toxic positivity. I’m being un-positive about toxic positivity. Let’s get real is what it should be. It’s just like, let’s just get real. It’s not great.

Nadya and I’ve talked about what allyship is. We’ve talked about her journey and what she has learned along the way. We’ve talked about what senior leaders should be thinking about and the conditions that are needed to make changes. Assuming my audience are probably on the same page Nadya and I and they’re also thinking, “Yes this is good, I’m going to step up, I’m going to be an ally, I’m going to go on this journey myself, I’m going to follow your advice as a senior leader, I’m going to create the right climate for change,” what would that person also need to unlearn and relearn in order to be effective?

‘If you’re a leader, unlearn what you believe to be true in your organisation since it is probably not true. You are probably sitting there with a set of beliefs about your people, about their mental state or their diversity or how they’re enjoying working in the organisation and it’s probably not true, because you’re so distant. There’s something called the neurology of power, which says that the more senior you are, the less empathy you have. And it makes sense, as someone who’s gone up through leadership, you have to make so many tough decisions as a leader that you sort of have to almost divorce yourself from what’s happening below you. So, the unlearn, for me, is just unlearn what you believe to be true and go out there and find out what’s really happening.’

As Nadya talked about empathy, I was thinking about an interview I did with a researcher from the Catalyst organisation. They wrote a report saying that they found that the number one quality that was required yet was missing was empathy. My team and I do inclusive leadership assessments and empathy is one of the six traits that people are benchmarked against. So, I find it quite shocking that Nadya said it’s missing the higher you go up the hierarchy because it’s such a needed skill.

Nadya agreed. ‘It’s so needed. It goes back to that personal story I was sharing. Whereas because I was situating myself so much in my lived experience, I was lacking empathy for everything else that was going on around me. You have to step outside your lived experience and say, I cannot know everything. I cannot experience everything. I cannot have a right to have an opinion on everything. Therefore, I need to collaborate in an empathetic and structured way in order to lead me to the right places.

Again, that is hard as a leader because everyone looks at you to be an inspirational leader. If you end up saying, “I can’t do this alone”, especially in the DEI space where you feel vulnerable anyway. You don’t want to say, “I can’t do this work,” because it makes you look like you’re un-inclusive. For me, unlearning is evaluating questions, the assumptions you have about the health, diversity, sense of belonging that people have in your organisation. And then relearn your organisation, so listen to your people, look at the data, spend time with your ERGs, spend time with people to relearn what’s really happening. That would be my kind of big unlearn and relearn.’

I love what Nadya says about unlearning. That led me to the question that I ask everybody when they come on the podcast, ‘What does inclusive growth mean to you?’

‘So, I’ve had to think about this one. To me, inclusive growth means your survival. Something we talk a lot about with businesses is the huge demographic shifts happening within the UK and Europe more widely and incredible amounts in the States. If you’re based in London at the moment, 51% of London is people of colour. This year, the university entrance, 16% of them have a neurodiversity and I’m glad to share that by 2025, 20% of people will identify as LGBTQ+ in some way. Now, that’s challenging as a leader because you probably don’t sit on any of those demographics. So, you are in a way in the out-group of the huge demographic shifts that are going to happen in your organisation. So, if you don’t do the unlearning and the relearning and really get to grips with this, then you in your role will not be able to survive because you will no longer be relevant. And it’s not about your identity. You don’t have to be a person of colour to be relevant within this discussion. You have to be someone who is empathetic and collaborative and is inclusive to everybody.

And your business isn’t going to survive either because if your business isn’t tapping into these huge demographic shifts that are occurring all over the place, then it is also going to become irrelevant. For me, inclusive growth is a fundamental requirement for survival.’

I’m glad Nadya used the word survival. I did a workshop with a client of mine, a hospitality business. They employ 40,000 people. I had a two-hour conversation with the chief executive and the board about why diversity and inclusion was important to their organisation and what their unique business case was. And at the end of the conversation, the chief executive basically turned around and said, ‘It’s basically about our survival, isn’t it?’

Nadya responded, ‘Yes, it is. It is. Which is why it shouldn’t just be HR’s responsibility. It is fundamental to business survival. It wasn’t in the ’80s. Like in the ’80s, the world was a much less diverse place. And that’s why DEI could wax and wane and wax and wane. We can’t turn back time. I know there are lots of very nasty organisations that are trying to turn back time. The change has happened. And now we’ve just got to respond to it in order to survive as a business.’

To follow the work that Nadya and Utopia do, sign up to the monthly newsletter on the website They also hold free breakfast briefings on topics such as DEI data, and on how to fight the tide of hate towards LGBTQ+ people. By signing up for the monthly newsletter, you’ll get an invite to those free events.

If your business is looking for any further support on your diversity and inclusion strategy, or inclusive leadership, please contact Toby and the team at

Build Inclusive Cultures by Doing the Right Thing - Mildon