The forgotten majority

The Telegraph's Asif Sadiq says, in order to move the dial forward we need to better engage middle-aged white men

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) continues to be a topic that is at the forefront of discussions at top levels of many organisations

We are all aware of the work that has been and is being done in this space and the developments in the area over the last 10 years or so. But whilst we have achieved a lot in the D&I space and brought key challenges to the board room table, there is still something lacking. So let's recap on where we are now - we have diverse workforces (at least at the entry level!) but sadly still have challenges the further up you go. The point at which you can really start to see the drop off of diverse talent, is from the middle managerial level onwards, where generally there is a 50% drop in gender and BME representation.

One of the questions I often ask is, are we really getting the full value from the diversity within our organisations or does it just look nice on paper. Let’s explore the challenges for each one of the main diversity strands.

First, - let’s look at gender

We have made considerable progress in this area but still have 217 years to go until gender parity, which is totally unacceptable. However to accelerate the progress we now need men to champion the cause and I don't just mean supporting issues that only affect women. They need to start championing and advocating shared parental leave, flexible working and caring responsibilities, in order to create fairness for everyone. However there is a real cultural barrier that men face to achieve this.

Ethnicity, or BAME/ BME as it is often referred to, is another challenging area

One of the biggest obstacles is that we find it difficult to openly talk about race, you might ask “Why?” Well, my view is that we struggle with what terms to use and what questions to ask as we live in a society where we don't want to offend, which results in people being extra cautious when it comes to the topic of race, and hence we find it difficult to address some of the challenges within the workplace.

We also continue to raise the flag for LGBTQ+

and are engaged in the topic a lot more, but are we really making a shift on LGBTQ+ equality in the workplace? Or are we just flying the rainbow flag? This continues to be an area of diversity we need to do more in, especially around the diversity and intersectionality that is within the community.

We really need to work on creating greater equality for the LGBTQ+ community in the work place through addressing the challenges they still face.

Finally Disability, or Ability as I prefer to call it

We now have great workplace adjustments in place for individuals, like for example software to support people with Dyslexia. However, is this really harnessing the power of diversity of thinking? Or are we just enabling people to think the way we do - which defeats the purpose of recruiting diversity? Surely, the focus should really be on harnessing the strength that people with different abilities bring?

So, what does the above highlight for us? We are doing great work but still have more to do - we need to think differently when we look at diversity and Inclusion. In my view, the biggest challenge and perhaps something we are all failing at is that fact that whilst we have engaged with Gender, BME, Ability and LGBTQ+ we have forgotten the majority. The white, middle aged men. Yes, I did just say that!

Now you are wondering why I raise this, right? Well, firstly we all know that the change we have made so far in D&I has been through the support of the people who have an affiliation to a diversity characteristic or believe that it is the right thing to do. However, we have now started to stall, and I strongly believe that we need the power of the majority if we are really going to move the dial on inclusion in the workplace.

This nicely brings me onto Belonging and why it is such an important area of D&I

So where do we start? Well we need to work on the “I” in D&I to achieve the “B”. Let me explain this better: We have strengthened diversity to a certain extent by recognising that people are different and that individuals may have protected characteristics. As organisations we have been working hard on creating a truly inclusive workplace that is reflective of the diversity we see, but how will we know when we are truly inclusive?

Well, that's where belonging comes in - the output of true inclusion is a sense of belonging for all our staff. You might be wondering what belonging looks like, right? Well, I believe it is the feeling that you can be yourself within a workplace and that you can bring however much of your authentic self you want to bring to work and when you feel appreciated and confident that you can contribute being you. There is a lot of research in this space and it all suggests that not only is belonging something we all crave for, but it is something that, if we achieve, can also unite all our people.

Belonging is a concept that every single person within our organisation can back - and feel that they are a part of as they do so - therefore it brings the forgotten majority into the conversation as well. In fact, in the context of work, a recent piece of research by EY showed that when people feel like they belong, they are more productive, motivated and engaged as well as 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their full, innovative potential. Therefore it is not only great for our people but it is great for business.

Who doesn't want a sense of belonging, right? It unites the efforts of D&I to create a truly inclusive workforce that can not only address some of the age old challenges we face in the D&I world but help support the advancements of our efforts to achieve the success that we are all after without leaving any group behind and allowing every single person to feel that they can be themselves and part of the work family. Creating a sense of belonging for our staff is not a science but more a process of reverting back to our basic principals of human interaction while disrupting our normal patterns within those interactions. Checking in on new members of your team, being open to, recognising and incorporate new approaches and ideas. Encourage people to offer diverse or dissenting opinions.

Asking others, “What points of view have I not yet considered?” these are some of the simple interactions that we can disrupt and view through a different lens. We can also address behaviours that inhibit belonging and can further support those who don't have a voice or are overlooked by creating opportunities that allow them to speak up and contribute. We need to clearly define the importance of valuing cultural and stylistic differences. We can also ask for perspectives from multiple team members and allow everyone to have a opportunity to share their thoughts during meetings, even if they differ from other opinions, that's what challenges the norm and new ideas are born!

We should look for ways teams can support each individual’s personal and career aspirations, needs, interests and styles. Through supporting informal networking, opportunities to gain experience and collaborate with others. It is important for us to be clear on the fact that differences are an asset and that we should openly share ideas and leverage diversity of thought. Finally, the key thing we can do is to be honest and transparent, no one expects everyone to know everything especially when it comes to diversity, however asking questions and exploring differences with the right intent is key to creating a sense of belonging for all our staff.

Asiq Sadiq MBE is Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at The Telegraph. Follow him @AsifSadiq

This article was taken from issue 2 of Marketing Society members-only publication EMPOWER. Find out more here and see past articles here (please note some articles are open to the public and some are for members only.)