Articles

We need to think about diversity differently

MEDIUM READ

Within today’s FTSE 100 boardrooms, few topics are as pressing as Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI).

 

The need for CEOs to acknowledge the subject has long since passed — we are now at the point where they need to be seen to understand and act on behalf of their organisations.

This inevitably means reaching out to experts for advice, help and solutions. Finding the right advisors to help a business navigate this challenging subject becomes critical.

However, the entire DEI consultancy and training sector suffers from a communication problem. The sector struggles to articulate both the value it offers and the impact it delivers.

 

There’s a simple reason for this — diversity is challenging to communicate.

 

Compare DEI consultants’ brands with those of progressive management consultancies; they look ill-considered and often twee. This further reinforces the sceptic’s view — that DEI is a fluffy, ’nice to have, a box to be ticked and not a serious subject that drives change.

 

DEI consultancy websites are invariably padded with stock photography showing groups of people from every ethnic group, gender and age jumping up in celebration or hanging out together and generally having a really, really great time. Or perhaps stood in a smiling circle with their hands in the centre over one another. We’ve all seen such terrible clichéd imagery; the DEI sector appears to embrace this imagery with open arms. Although it’s a poor result, such a cliched visual narrative often comes from good intentions.

 

I can imagine the discussions that would drive a DEI business to settle for such a compromised approach:

“We’re aiming for diversity, so we need to show we’re including everyone…”

“D&I isn’t just about race; how do we express it’s also about gender and age?”

“How do we show the people we’re actively looking to help?”

 

In answer to these types of questions, many DEI consultancies focus their homepage on a photograph of an individual, attempting to demonstrate ‘this is the person we’re looking to empower’. I recently discussed this approach with a recognised DEI expert. Coming from different ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, our reading of such an image was markedly different. Where I read it positively, her response was more critical: ‘Highlighting a BAME individual on their homepage simply points to that person as the ‘problem’ that a business needs to fix.’

 

In DEI, more than almost any other business sector, every image choice has implications. Communicating intention in a positive way without unwanted or unexpected meaning continues to prove a challenge. Similarly, DEI consultants are woefully underselling their expertise when explaining what they actually do.

 

The sector loves to highlight the most basic of business interactions; the workshop. Sure, workshops and webinars are essential tools in any business transformation programme, but they are very much activities, not added value. Take a look at how management consultants represent themselves and their work. They might live and breathe Powerpoint and Excel, but you’ll never find them talking about conjuring up a spreadsheet on their website. Instead, they’ll talk about bigger subjects, such as driving transformation and change.

 

To overcome these problems, DEI consultancies need the bravery and vision to talk about their effect and the results they achieve.

 

This requires elevating the conversation, deciding whom they are talking to (realistically the C-Suite) and understanding their audience’s motivation—removing the jargon and accepting that not everyone understands the subject’s nuances or feels comfortable asking. Only when they achieve this can those in the DEI sector expect to be treated with the gravitas other consultancies earn.