Diversity and inclusion architect Toby Mildon has worked at the BBC and Deloitte to create inclusive work cultures that harness the proven benefits of diversity. From that, he recently released his book Inclusive Growth: Future-proof your business by creating a diverse workplace, to make an inclusive workplace for all.
How are you thinking about diversity and inclusion in the world today?
In the months before COVID-19, I spent a lot of time working with clients on how they create inclusive cultures (recognising that diversity includes everybody), however, conversations lately have shifted more to race and ethnicity in the wake of what happened to George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
How would you suggest a manager could help employees feel safe and comfortable at work?
Managers have to get comfortable with having difficult conversations with people. So, the role of a manager is to create the space for people to be able to talk quite openly and honestly about their diversity, backgrounds and lived experiences. Employees should be able to share what their experiences are like so that we can start to identify some of the challenges that they’re facing in the workplace.
How do we open up the floor for colleagues to have difficult conversations at work?
It starts with active listening. We can make all sorts of assumptions and judgments about what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes, working for your organisation. However, managers need to do a lot more active listening; they need to create safe spaces for people to speak up about their experiences and to do that in a safe, non-judgmental way. That is what will help people empathise with what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes in the organisation, and then start to think about some practical solutions that will help make the experience of people working in the company improve.
Why should straight, white men not feel threatened or scared by diversity and inclusion?
There’s nothing to fear. Diversity is a good thing for organisations; it enables businesses to have better decision making and greater creativity. Although diversity is a good thing, sometimes it can be perceived as a threat. What diversity tends to do is shine a light on difference, and it’s that difference that can be uncomfortable for some people in organisations.
So, I prefer to talk about inclusion as some organisations want to create a culture of belonging. We must get comfortable with difference, and that goes back to our human psyche. If we look at unconscious bias, we have a bias towards people that are just like us. We end up staying in those groups and excluding people who we perceive to be out the group, and we need to reach out to them, so we hang around people that aren’t just like us.
So better diversity has been proven to help companies succeed and go further, why is that?
If you look at the reports that McKinsey has done, they have found that with better gender balance and ethnic representation at board level, companies outperform the more homogenous businesses.
There’s a bottom-line argument to this, that with greater diversity you get greater life experiences, opinions and perspectives, which helps with better decision making, greater creativity and innovation. That enables businesses to do more; it might be that they can create better products and services that resonate with the market. More diverse businesses are more effective at decision making, which I think is important during COVID-19. A lot of businesses are working under a lot of pressure now, and we need to have high-quality decision making during this time. You get that with diversity.
What’s the significance of the recent US Supreme Court decision to stop discrimination in the workplace?
In the UK, we have the Equality Act, and in America, they have things like the Americans with Disability Acts, and although that is all well and good, legislation is the baseline. It does a really good job of kickstarting diversity and inclusion as suddenly organisations can’t get away with things anymore due to new regulations which will hold them accountable. However, over time, regulations become the minimum standard because society and organisations innovate and evolve. Companies and people realise that they need to go beyond what the legislation states because it can take a very long time for legislation to be set.
Any legislation that is created by any government should be the baseline. If we take the Equality Act in the UK, if a disabled person is discriminated against, it’s the responsibility of the said disabled person to start the legal proceedings. However, the victim may not have the means to do that, either financially or time-wise; therefore, organisations aren’t necessarily held to account.
How does your book Inclusive Growth help businesses looking to focus on diversity and inclusion?
I created the book because I worked as an in-house diversity and inclusion manager for a couple of big organisations, and I was frustrated that I didn’t really feel like I was making an impact. I became aware of the mistakes that organisations were making in trying to become more inclusive. So, I thought that there must be a more sustainable way of doing this where it just becomes business as usual. I always draw it to parallels where people very easily talk about health and safety, for example.
If you see a risk in the office, like if you see that somebody might trip over something, most people know what to do, but the same doesn’t happen for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. So that’s when I started writing the book. It goes through seven best practices essentially. Strategy, culture, change management, employee experiences, accessible technology, collaboration and employer branding, are all discussed in great detail.