“Leaders should foster a culture of D&I and businesses must ensure that their executive teams receive the training necessary to make this possible.”
Embracing diversity and inclusion (D&I) is non-negotiable for financial services providers (FSPs) seeking to avail themselves of the opportunities presented by the evolving socio economic landscape. Over my career I have worked in South Africa and some of its neighbouring countries, and for two-and-a-half-years, in China. It turns out that China is an excellent place to learn about different cultures and the impact of diversity on economic and social outcomes.
Unpacking the concept of D&I
It can be difficult to talk about D&I in a South African context, given our challenging history. It helps, therefore, to reflect unemotionally on the individual words. To begin, you can identify four diversity linked facets including internal (relating to your age, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation); external (focussing on your education, personal interests; relationship status and religion); organisational (centring on job function, management status and seniority); and world view (dealing with your moral values, outlook on life and political beliefs).
As for “inclusion”, Googling the word and applying a definition to your workplace D&I policy is of little value. Instead, you should consider this quote from renowned D&I expert Andrés Tapia, who says: “Diversity is the mix; inclusion is making the mix work”. Put another way, it means ensuring that your employees (across functions and levels within the business) are a mix of the four facets of diversity shared above, and then ensuring that these diverse employees work towards the business’ goals.
Importance of D&I in the workplace
D&I is important because it ensures a diversity of views within your business, which in turn translates into better decision making, faster problem solving, increased creativity and innovation and an improved reputation among your business peers – and of course “next-level” profit, revenue and staff retention outcomes.
To adopt and embrace D&I throughout your business requires buy-in from your executive and management teams; but how do you go about achieving this? While conducting research for a presentation to the 2023 Financial Intermediaries Association of Southern Africa Advice Summit, I stumbled upon five tips for companies keen to accelerate their innovation, creativity and client engagement through D&I policies. These include:
1) Realise that every team member has an X-factor. Your job is to acknowledge every team member’s X-factor, and if it is not visible, to figure out why by asking questions like: Do team members feel included and valued? And are team members aware of how their contributions assist in achieving business objectives?
2) D&I starts at the top. Leaders should foster a culture of D&I and businesses must ensure that their executive teams receive the training necessary to make this possible. This training could be the most important investment your business makes as part of its D&I agenda.
3) Be conscious of unconscious biases. And remember, these biases are not limited to recruitment; they play out in all activities across the business. If you fall prey to unconscious biases you risk robbing the business of fresh perspectives. One solution is to acknowledge your unconscious biases during conscious decision making.
4) Consider forming a D&I forum. This forum tells the entire organisation that its leadership is serious about creating a diverse and inclusive environment, and is equivalent to the leadership saying: “We want to create an inclusive environment, and we want you to help us do so”.
5) Shared values and vision. The final “tip” is something that US-based leadership guru Simon Sinek believes in – namely that your efforts will bear fruit provided there is a shared set of values and shared vision; this is the glue that brings a diverse team together.
A D&I policy offers a win-win-win for FSPs, employees, and customers. The innovation, creativity and client enablement that result from a diverse, united workforce will help your business to achieve both profit and social success.