Alison Maitland is a writer, speaker, adviser and coach. Specializing in leadership, inclusion and the changing world of work, she has co-authored two previous books, Future Work and Why Women Mean Business. Rebekah Steele is a business strategist, innovator and speaker with deep expertise in Diversity and Inclusion. She helps leaders in business, government and non-profit organizations bring progressive strategies to life via her signature D&I innovation labs and distinctive ecosystem design process.
What follows here are snippets from our conversation with Alison and Rebekah - edited for length and clarity - make sure you listen to the entire conversation for the great insight! To find out more about the book of Alison and Rebekah, INdivisible, please visit: https://indivisible-book.com/
Agnes Uhereczky: First, I would like to ask you a very practical question. What experiences made you want to write this book? And, who is this book for?
Rebekah Steele: Alison and I both care about helping organisations better achieve their goals by acting on the imperatives of both inclusion and diversity. So, we long have been spearheading new ways of thinking and new ways of working that can generate better D&I results and their impacts. In our work with business executives and diversity and inclusion leaders across sectors and around the world we have seen a persistent frustration, we saw leaders knowing that inclusion was important but they were not sure how to tangibly define inclusion, how to effectively measure inclusion and its impacts on organizations purpose and people, or what strategies and actions would bring inclusion to life. We saw that so many organisations were taking piecemeal approaches that could just not deliver the sustainable business results they need. So we wanted to address that gap between the promise and practice of inclusion with a comprehensive approach to link inclusion with business-relevant results and to consistently integrate inclusion into every aspect of their organisations. So just like any other business driver a comprehensive approach linked to business results is critical.
Alison Maitland: I love what has Rebekah said, and I would add that it is apparent that inclusion is increasingly important in the world today. We need to address the disruptive challenges that our world is facing today. And, organisations need to call on the perspectives, the experiences and the ideas of the broadest possible mix of people. Inclusion is necessary for the 3Ps that are performance, preparedness and purpose. For performance, first of all, there is a lot of evidence that inclusion drives things like innovation, better decisions in organisations, it can reduce risks, or, it can boost revenues. And, there is preparedness which is all about how inclusion is linked to the new world of work, to the challenges we are facing and will face in the future. Things like we need higher-level human skills to thrive alongside smart machines, for example. We need high-level human skills to hold people together when we are working virtually. And of course now suddenly so many people are working virtually because of this unprecedented global pandemic that we are in. The third P is about purpose. So organisations are quite rightly focusing increasingly on what is their purpose, what is their purpose beyond just profit. So we call them the performance, preparedness and purpose; 3 Ps. They are all very important reasons to focus on inclusion.
The book is for senior leaders, for example, the Chief Executive who wants to align profit and purpose. For the Innovation Leader, say, who wants unconventional ideas to innovate better. It is for the Risk Officer, for example, who is intent on avoiding the fallout the damage that can happen when you have discrimination when you have a bias in organisations. And, it is not just for senior leaders. This book is actually for everyone. So, we have included questions and advice and suggestions for middle managers who are often really at the sharp end and have to implement the strategy. We have also included a lot of advice on actions that individuals can take within for themselves or actually with their teams. Because inclusion impacts everybody and everybody has a role to play.
Agnes Uhereczky: Rebekah, what are these blockages that hamper inclusion to progress further?
Rebekah Steele: Yes, we really can be pleased with recognisable progress in some areas, but the slow pace of progress, the disappointing regression, the insufficient results all signal that we have to take a different approach to get better results. Let me just highlight three of the reasons why organisations are not advancing on D and I. The first is the reliance on piecemeal approaches rather than on a comprehensive indivisible strategy, many approach D&I as a set of disconnected programmes, or isolated events, or solo initiatives, things like a diversity speaker series, a bit of bias awareness training etc. But as we describe in the book, a far more ambitious holistic alternative is necessary to achieve widespread and lasting outcomes.
The second common barrier is replicating what are often labelled as best practices that are ineffective.
One example is based on the evidence that shows us that unconscious bias awareness training is not effective in mitigating the negative impacts of bias but it is a really common practice and often called a best practice. So these kinds of approaches do not achieve the crucial outcomes we need and in the meanwhile, they waste resources and sometimes they are unintentionally distracting or even damaging along the way. The third failure is when D&I is just not linked to business outcomes such as innovation for competitive advantage, or customer retention, or sustainable and profitable growth. So despite leaders request so often for what we call the business case for D&I they fail to integrate and align D&I strategies with those overarching business goals. That sets D&I up as being optional or as a distraction from mission-critical goals. But it does not have to be this way, we definitely can do better and in INdivisible we share how a business linked whole strategy is more effective.
Agnes Uhereczky: If you could give one advice to senior leaders in terms of what they should do to make their organisations more inclusive, what would be your advice to them?
Rebekah Steele: It is clear to me that senior leaders need to treat inclusion the same as they would any other critical business driver such as marketing or safety. When organisations thoughtfully and inclusively bring together a full mix of people and their ideas they can achieve the high performance and innovation needed to fulfil their mission and also to transcend increasingly complex challenges.
Alison Maitland: Well, I’d like it to be a challenge actually, I’d like to say be ambitious for inclusion which reaches inside your organisation and it also extends outside to all of your stakeholders, partners and the society in which you operate. There are pioneering companies and we do talk about them in the book who are setting the pace really with strategies that are built on the interdependent goals of inclusion and sustainability. They are building bridges, finding breakthrough solutions for our most pressing challenges. So what will your role be in advancing inclusion not just internally in your organisation but across the whole of society?