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We have thought long and hard about the challenges involved in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. It is not an easy ‘fix’ – if it was, businesses would have succeeded by now.

These are what we see as the key challenges:

We are operating from a place of unconscious incompetence
We literally don’t know that there is another way. What we see happening around us is what we know, and it is difficult to grasp an alternative way of doing things, let alone the benefits that might bring. Despite strong research (research done by McKinsey), the business case remains largely intuitive and conceptual.

The human brain wants to fit in
The human brain is wired for survival – meaning that it likes certainty and to feel like it fits in. Growing up, we learn that compliance makes us safe and that belonging feels good. The shift to a diverse and inclusive workplace is going to require vulnerability, swimming against the tide and a comfort in being around people that are ‘not like us’. The other side of this coin is that those who don’t feel like they ‘fit in’ experience imposter syndrome and operate from a place of ‘not enough’ – meaning they often play small. We can help people recognise and move beyond their imposter syndrome, at the same time creating cultures which are less likely to give rise to this phenomenon.

Unconscious bias
The human brain is also wired to categorise and to stereotype. It is a universal human trait that helps us to make sense of the world. Unfortunately, that skill comes with a less useful by-product – that of unconscious bias. We, unconsciously, hold stereotypes about groups of people that may make it harder for those groups to succeed in the workplace. We may also internalise stereotypes about the groups to which we ourselves belong.

Fear of conflict
Most people have an aversion to conflict and certainly would prefer to be surrounded by people who agree, rather than disagree, with them.  Getting a more diverse range of opinions in the room is going to mean greater disagreement. Period. We need to show people that conflict doesn’t need to be feared, that it can be a place of personal growth and give them the tools and skills to have difficult, challenging conversations.

The ability and knowledge of how to build diverse and inclusive teams
We like to be right, and the current leadership model, whilst shifting, is still in the ‘all knowing leader’ paradigm. Often, we don’t have the resilience to align rather than agree and we are not aware of our greater role in the system. Asking for help is seen as a weakness, whereas it could in fact mean listening to other people’s valid, different and possibly more useful opinions. Diverse teams need a skilled leader to harness them otherwise homogeneity is probably preferable. Such leaders let go of ‘coerce and control’, understand our interconnectedness and know how to align teams on a common purpose. It is a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and team leaders need support in being able to deal with that, when they have been taught to look for certainty.

We are too busy
This is a two-fold challenge. Often teams feel like the D&I agenda is going to be resource intensive within teams that are already stretched to breaking point, (we would argue that it requires shifting your ‘being’ rather than a series of time intensive initiatives and that operating from the current place is more time ineffective). Alongside this, when we are operating at full pelt, we neglect to access our intuition and we ignore our emotional needs. We need to listen to both to move forwards – as individuals and as teams. When systems ignore their pain, it is stressful and this makes us less socially intelligent, empathic and creative. We are functioning from our limbic brain, we waste human capital and stress shuts down our neural pathways.

We value certain ways of thinking
Culturally, we value the left brain over the right brain. We value reason, judgement, cause and effect… and yet what could be possible if we valued feelings, relationships, intuition and creativity? Some experience shame at being ‘differently brained’, again dampening their productivity.

We have developed a suite of products to support businesses in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. 
DOWNLOAD OUR D&I TOOLKIT
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The IPA have recently announced that they will publish a comprehensive agency employee league table listing measures such as gender and diversity versus department and seniority. ‘This table will be part of positioning the industry as enlightened and progressive in order to attract and retain the best talent.’ This comes at a time when clients are also demanding information on diversity as part of the RFP on a pitch brief.

The Hobbs Consultancy welcomes this move on a number of levels.  It positions diversity as a key metric for business success – via the attraction and retention of the best talent. And clearly what gets measured tends to get done – without data we simply don’t know the extent of our business challenges and whether we’re moving in the right direction.

Many diversity initiatives focus on the push factors – identifying what barriers can be removed or what additional support can be provided to individuals to encourage and enable their success.  Examples of this kind of diversity intervention would be mentoring and coaching.

What the IPA are doing is creating a PULL factor.  This is something that is going to create traction and energy at the very top of organisations – creating a stimulus for change. Understanding the business case for diversity is a pull factor and recent research by EY found that ‘companies that say they are good at ensuring that teams are comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences tend to have higher EBITDA* growth rates’. (*EBITDA : Earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation)

And the publication of positive statistics in itself brings clear business benefits. When Daren Rubins (CEO of PHD) recently said, ‘We’re 40 per cent female on our board and at Exec level there are four of us and two of those are women.  So a 50/50 split exec team..’, women all over the industry sat up and listened.  When we shared his comments on our facebook page, one industry female commented, ‘Great article Daren Rubins, when can I come and work for you again?!’

Clients may well also be sitting up and paying attention to any published statistics – in addition to the emotional appeal of the ethical case, it may be that agencies who get this right are going to be better at understanding clients target audiences.

The Hobbs Consultancy offers a data audit to support companies in the lead up to the publication of the IPA league table, helping you to understand where you are now in terms of diversity.


The Hobbs Consultancy Diversity Data Audit

What is it:- A deep dive in to your company’s data to build a picture of your key diversity metrics, key areas to focus on and position vs industry norms.  The audit will also include a confidential, short all staff survey to measure the correlation between diversity and inclusivity in your organisation.  The audit will provide a detailed report pulling out the key statistics, stories, hypotheses and recommendations that can be shared at a senior level. A powerpoint version will also be supplied that can be shared more widely within the company, suggested to be used to on board key stakeholders or as part of wider training.

Key outputs:-

  1. A summary of your company’s performance vs a number of key, pre agreed, diversity metrics
  2. An understanding of where you don’t have meaningful data and recommendations as to how you can start measurement
  3. A summary of how you perform versus industry norms and benchmarks, other sector benchmarks and UK population
  4. An understanding of the correlation between diversity and inclusivity, i.e. how engaged and included people feel in your organisation sorted by gender and ethnic background.
  5. An understanding of the story behind the numbers (for example – is a low number of senior women driven by female leavers, or females stalling in their careers?).
  6. Recommendations for next steps.

Cost: from £2500 + VAT

This includes three key milestones – a briefing meeting, a data request session and a findings meeting.  The length of the project will depend on how readily accessible your data is, but it can typically be completed in 4-6 weeks.


Testimonial

“Roxanne completed an audit of our data so that we could see how we performed on various diversity measures versus both industry norms and the wider population.  This enabled us to identify where we wanted to focus our efforts and also showed us where meaningful data was currently not available.  Most importantly it has given us a benchmark so that we can now track progress over time”. Tracy de Groose, CEO Dentsu Aegis

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Diversity seems to be a bit of a buzzword in the industry at the moment. There is a general sense that we must be able to do better and that diversity and inclusion are organisational imperatives that we should embrace.  We look around us and see that the current make up of our agencies and our boards are not reflective of the make up of the London population around us.  Recent panel debates at Adweek, Bloom and WACL have highlighted the need to change, along with some tactical successes of a few forward thinking individuals.

Yet what do we need to do to embrace long term, systematic change in this area? How do we move from talking to doing? Sometimes when I attend these excellent panel debates, I wonder if we are preaching to the choir – as to attend such an event implies that you have some understanding of why this change is so important to our industry.  It’s the people that don’t attend that we need to convince.  Organisational change cannot be effected by a few enlightened individuals at each agency. It requires the majority of the agency population to lean in, to be convinced of the benefits of that change and to seize their responsibility in making that change happen.

My perspective is that the conversation needs to shift.  We currently believe that diversity is a ‘nice to have’ and will probably have a net cost.  We think we are going to have to invest in expensive training, policies and compliance programmes.  In short, we think we should get involved, but there are always more pressing concerns on the ‘to do’ list and for the budget.

And then, at other times, the debate becomes centred on the group that stands to directly benefit.  The business case might be articulated through the advantages that group might bring to the table – especially true in the case for women.  ‘Women seem to be better at dealing with people and are more empathic’, we muse and that becomes the business case for having more female, senior leaders.  Unfortunately this approach is the very antithesis of inclusivity.  It creates a further stereotype for which women need to conform so as to be successful (excluding those that aren’t naturally like this), it focuses on one angle of the diversity debate (excluding ethnicity, geographic and educational background, LGBTQ etc) and, frankly, is only ever going to get the empathic females aligned behind it.

My call is that we change the conversation and put diversity and inclusivity at the heart of business strategy.  We need to focus on creating the holistic business case and aligning whole organisations behind that, not just a D&I consultant.  All employees, believing in the business case, could take a role in championing inclusivity.

So what might be the true business case for Diversity and Inclusivity in today’s advertising industry?  I personally believe this is a conversation every agency in town needs to be having in its boardrooms.  To use a coaching analogy, teams will have more of a stake in its progress if they design its benefits themselves and together.   But here are a few starters for ten.

 1. We will understand our client’s audiences better.

Probably the most obvious and yet also the most powerful.  Consumer insight is critical to our industry’s success and whilst we can use tools, surveys and research there is a nuance of consumer insight that can be best gained through multiple experiences in the room.

 2. We will attract and retain the best talent

Our employees are also our customers.  To attract and retain the best possible talent, we need to ensure that we are perceived as a diverse and inclusive company.  I’m reminded about how Antonio Simoes of HSBC talks regularly about gay issues in public and at in house events and says, ‘It’s amazing the number of people who email me from HSBC around the world to say, “I thought your speech was really motivational and I feel really excited about working for a bank that truly values diversity and meritocracy”’ (as told in The Glass Closet, by John Browne).

 3. To increase productivity

Unconscious bias, implicit associations and homophobic / sexist attitudes are all deeply inefficient. Quite simply, we will increase our productivity if we seek to reduce our own (natural) bias.

 4. For attracting new clients

I’ve seen a number of RFP’s in recent times asking what an agency is doing in the area of Diversity and Inclusivity.  Having a clear point of view and strategy will increasingly be a part of pitch submissions and will help you to win business, much like the sustainability case has done in recent years.

There are many more.  Believing in the business case perhaps requires a shift from short to medium term thinking.  It requires our agencies to reflect the society we are serving.  Inertia is not enough – we need our leaders to clearly articulate the business case and align everyone in their agencies behind this change.

Roxanne Hobbs is the founder of The Hobbs Consultancy – which is on a mission to transform business via inclusivity.  They offer Inclusion 3.0 workshops which seek to build the business case and raise awareness of our own unconscious bias.   Prices from £1000 + VAT for a half day workshop in your organisation for 10 people.  Email me for more information… www.thehobbsconsultancy.comroxanne@thehobbsconsultancy.com

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Towards the end of 2014 I started working with companies to help them with the diversity and inclusivity agenda.  This has been a big shift for me. My work supporting women through workplace challenges is super rewarding and really helps the individual women. And yet… I worried it sent the message that it’s the women that need fixing.

This isn’t the case.

Sustainable change needs to come from the top in organisations.  My own recent research and also voices in the media point to a huge motherhood penalty for women.

From a recent Guardian article;

“It was assumed my priorities lay elsewhere”

“Before I had a baby I would really have questioned whether such sexism even existed”

“My previous responsibilities were removed”

http://www.theguardian.com/money/us-money-blog/2015/jan/06/mommy-track-maternity-leave-careers

Companies need to rethink how they approach maternity and the introduction of new paternity laws in April provide an ideal timeframe.  I actually wonder whether it will be when men seize the opportunity to take extended paternity leave in significant numbers that change will start to happen.

And at the end of the day, this isn’t just about getting more women to the top of organisations.  This is about creating a workplace in which every body can bring their whole self in to the workplace and be valued for it.  Just focusing on gender is not a particularly inclusive way of approaching the issues. Instead I am getting a stronger handle on what gets in the way of everyone showing up and being truly seen in the workplace.

My hunch is that a more diverse boardroom, which embraces our differences, will lead to a more creative and innovative environment.  My work therefore focuses on helping individuals show up and be seen; whilst also advising companies of structural and cultural changes they can make.

What to expect from me in 2015:

One of my resolutions for the year ahead is to get my voice heard.  Expect to see articles from me championing the importance of diversity and inclusivity. I will continue to reach out to women encouraging them to stand up and be counted in the workplace.  Alongside this I will be giving strategic advice and offering training to organisations in how to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace.  My newsletters will encompass both angles and will appeal to anyone with an interest in inclusivity in its broadest sense.

I will be running The Daring Way™ workshops, based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown throughout the year to support everyone in living brave and being truly seen.

I will continue to coach and provide support for women in stepping in to their bravest and most authentic selves.

LOOK OUT FOR:

The Daring Way™ for leaders:  retreat in Brighton, March 26
Taking place at the boutique hotel – Artist Residence – in Brighton, this two day leadership event offers you the chance to step in to daring, authentic and vulnerable leadership. Learn how to create the support you need as a leader, how to build authentic and trusting relationships with colleagues, how to build resilience to the (inner and external) critic and how to continue to dare greatly as a leader. If you’re keen to take more risks, stand out as an innovative leader, build stronger relationships and access your creativity – this retreat is for you! Find out more here

The Back to Work MOT
Supporting women in returning to work with confidence and style, this is my new partnership with Sally from Queen Bee Styling. Find out more here

My guest blog for Driven Woman
in which I talk about Daring Greatly in 2015 click here to read