The competitive advantage of inclusion

Research increasingly suggests that a happier, more inclusive and diverse work force is the key to commercial success. Whether it’s ensuring equal opportunities for all individuals, or building a more diverse and more capable team, the business case for diversity has never been clearer, argues Yetunde Hofmann

The next generation of workers and consumers are demanding social value in their workplaces and in the products that they consume, as well as the wider world around them. The United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), a set of ambitious targets to make the world a better place by 2030, are aligned with many of the goals of contemporary diversity equality and inclusion (DE&I) policies.

From reducing inequality of all kinds, to universal education and opportunities, the UN’s SDGs emphasise the objective of people “fulfilling their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment”, whilst enjoying prosperous and fulfilling lives free from inequality, fear, poverty, or violence.

These same agendas are present in DE&I policies the world over, and the benefits are clear for all to see. Recently, a PWC report on diversity and inclusion reputation, Magnet for Talent, investigated the ways in which such strategies impact upon the reputation, positive or negative, of companies and how it defines their ability to grow, attract the talent pool they desire and their capacity to perform at a high level.

The research strongly suggests that a comprehensive DE&I strategy has become a necessary foundation upon which a company must be built, impacting critically on whether or not it can survive in the future.

But how can we enact our DE&I policy from being just words on paper to becoming a decisive plan of action that reflects our goals and strengthens our competitive edge?

Policy and strategy alignment

Firstly, your DE&I policy must align with your strategy, but there has to be a genuine commitment to it and a willingness to do all that is required to make it work and that commitment must go beyond words and demonstrate action.

  • It is essential to think long-term: build comprehensive strategies spanning at least a year to ensure success
  • Make sure that you have representatives of your people involved in writing the policy and implementing it, particularly those it will impact; both those that may feel they have something to gain by it and those that may feel they have something to lose
  • Listen to the people you involve and demonstrate that their opinions are valued and their contribution matters.
  • Equip employee resource groups with the resources they need, including money, and give them a mandate to effect change from day one
  • Track progress and set meaningful and measurable targets and goals that are regularly reviewed

  • Review every element of your people processes for the presence of bias, identify where change must be made and make the change
  • Celebrate wins and be proud of the diversity of your team
  • Share learned information and insights and broadcast your diversity. 

Diversity increases potential

There is nothing more attractive than people with different skills, experiences, backgrounds, cultures and perspectives coming together with a common goal and objective. When difference is celebrated, and everyone’s contribution is encouraged, the speed of innovation accelerates. This enables creativity and lessens the chances of “group think”.

Not only does diversity enable speed when it comes to innovation, it also avoids the potential heavy costs of getting product launches, names and go-to-market strategies wrong across cultures and geographies. A research report by Deloitte entitled, The diversity and inclusion revolution, provides powerful insights that reinforce this outlook. The diversity of your team should match that of your consumer base in order to tailor the best product possible and stay relevant.

The impact of developments in technology and AI means that new skills sets are required more than ever. For example, STEM capabilities, as well as innovative brains, are increasingly in demand. The skills and talent that a neurodiverse team can bring to an organisation is becoming more valuable as a result. Companies such as Microsoft and Hewlett Packard are leading the way in fast-tracking how they adapt their attraction, recruitment and retention strategies to ensure that such talent is brought into their workforce.

Attracting talent by investing in the future

Increasingly, future talent is doing comprehensive research into an employer’s culture and reputation, before choosing to work for them, as highlighted in the PWC report.

Discrimination can result not only in that kind of talent never arriving, but also in the exit of your best employees, whether they are in the minority or not. This can result in long-term and irreparable damage to your employer brand, as well as to future growth.

The harmful effects of exclusion can lead to victims, or witnesses, of bullying to withdraw from the group, or even leave the company permanently to escape the situation. According to ResearchGate’s study on The Organisational Effects of Workplace Bullying, the hidden financial costs of such behaviour are astounding.

If we invest heavily in our DE&I strategies, the benefits will outweigh the initial expenses, and our reputation and performance will speak for themselves.

Top-down leadership

Leaders who are willing to stand up and be counted can accelerate change. Do what is right and take on that leadership responsibility to ensure that all your people have the opportunity to be who they are, to belong, to advance their careers and contribute to the best of their ability.

If you are a CEO, it is your responsibility to set an example. You should consider proactively sponsoring and nominating individuals in your organisation to lead high-profile projects, or joining one of the teams driving them. It will help them gain more exposure, broaden experience, and demonstrate to stakeholders that they matter.

When you are recruiting for vacancies in your team, insist on seeing a diverse shortlist. Adopt a zero-tolerance approach with your recruiters. When your company introduces a high-profile company leadership programme, ensure that members of your teams from underrepresented groups are nominated and able to attend.

Social conscience

From leading consultancies to business schools and bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), the world of business increasingly highlights the importance of accountability to society and commitment to fighting discrimination in the workplace.

According to the WEF, “bringing together people from all walks of life holds the key to making progress happen”. For these institutions, a good DE&I strategy has become one of the fundamental ways in which positive change can occur, and the fabric upon which an organisation can prosper and grow, whatever the scale or context of the business.   

Competitive advantage is increasingly critical to both the short and long-term survival and success of an organisation of any size, whether local or global. The people and talent of the organisation are the differentiating factor that is key to ensuring this. Seizing the reigns of diversity and enabling the release of all the benefits it has to offer is the way forward. 

Building diversity and inclusion into the fabric of your organisation could be the very thing that will enrich and reward your business and provide the competitive edge it needs to flourish in the future.

Yetunde Hofmann is a board-level executive leadership coach and mentor, a global change, inclusion and diversity adviser, author of Beyond Engagement, and founder of Solaris, a leadership development programme for black women. She is also the chair of REMCO, the remuneration committee of chemical manufacturing company Treatt Plc, and an independent non-executive director at Cranswick Country Foods. Find out more at

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