Anusha Shah

Why diversity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords

Anusha Shah

It’s true to say that the construction industry and archaeology have a diversity problem. MOLA has a strong record employing women and LGBTQ people, our gender pay gap figures are exemplary and our Chief Exec is an active advocate for women leaders in the construction industry. We do however, need to do more to offer opportunity and progression to people with BAME backgrounds or disabled people and so we are currently reviewing our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy and processes. Anusha Shah is a passionate advocate for diversity in the workplace, which involves acting as Co-Chair of ICE London and South-East Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, membership of the ICE Fairness, Inclusion and Respect Group, and Chairing the Thames Estuary Partnership Board. In this article Anusha considers some of the issues and the benefits of organisations being truly diverse and inclusive.

As I write this piece, somewhere a talented female professional is contemplating quitting her job as she has been overlooked for promotion yet again, a gay employee is dreading going to work as he is tired of concealing his orientation and pretending who he is not, a man from ethnic minority is being signed up for indefinite stress leave as he can’t cope up with the snide remarks and the isolation treatment meted out by his Manager, and yet again a hugely talented professional’s CV does not make it to the interview shortlist because his name does not sound White British.

Unfair, unacceptable and unethical are some of the words which come to mind. These instances are a result of both conscious and unconscious bias – the biggest barriers to creating diverse teams. The organisations where these people work are about to lose a wealth of talent. As per Neurology, the part of the brain that is affected when we are rejected or ‘left out’ is the same that gets affected when we are physically hit, the impact is both psychological and physical (1). We have been reading about how diverse teams and inclusive cultures make great business sense but what is hardly spoken about is how it enables social justice. Embracing diversity and creating a truly inclusive culture will result in both efficient workplaces as well as a prosperous and happy society since you allow people to be themselves and that brings out the best in them.  

The business case for diversity and inclusion can’t be overemphasised, these are more than just buzzwords. Many studies including McKinsey‘s in 2015 revealed companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians (2). The looming skills shortage demands that we groom talents from all sections of society. Professionals from diverse backgrounds working in unison will help create inclusive cities where residents across the economic, social and religious divides can lead a wholesome life.

It is well documented that diversity and inclusion helps to spark creativity and innovation. I have seen it first hand when I was heading one of the teams at Thames Estuary Asset Management 2100. My team was diverse from every possible aspect – religion, ethnicity, gender, orientation, and country of origin. The diverse perspectives and outlook enriched our daily work, helped us de-risk the biggest risks from the programme innovatively and the team was quoted as the highest performing team by the client.

Another compelling reason to have diverse teams is the urgent need to tackle complex global challenges such as overpopulated cities, climate change, water and energy crises, and developments like Brexit which have thrown a curve ball to the mix. The quicker we understand that collaboration and innovation is the only way-out the better prepared we will be. We need people from all backgrounds to come together and help craft efficient and sustainable solutions.

Diversity on its own is not enough, we need  leadership which champions an open and inclusive environment where everyone thrives. As Diversity & Inclusion expert, Verna Myers rightly mentioned, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance." It’s high time we not only throw open the dance-floor to everyone but also encourage them to show their dancing skills.

(1) ICE Diversity and Inclusivity Action Plan, 2015-16

(2) Diversity Matters, Vivian Hunt Dennis Layton Sara Prince, McKinsey & Company, 2015

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