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Spot the difference

A white male manager in an investment bank recently told me that he understood the business case for diversity. But looking back at the last five hires he had made, they were all the mirror image of himself - pale, male, Oxbridge-educated. They even played golf at the same club, for goodness sake.

This experience is not uncommon. He was threatened by difference and that somebody atypical would not fit in. Shunning diversity was the safe option.

And yet increasingly, organisations are realising they can’t afford to be dismissive about the issue. Diversity is about the culture and environment of an organisation. Crucially, it is about how people think.

The first way of thinking is ‘inclusive’; it’s about harnessing differences in people, both visible and non-visible. The latter is an exclusive homogenous mindset. This is the attitude that, at an interview, will manifest itself overtly.

In the last 10 years, the UK has morphed from what was predominantly a monoculture to a multicultural country. By 2010, less than 20% of the UK working population will be white, male, able-bodied and under the age of 45. By 2014, there will be more people over 65 in the UK than under 16. The make-up and buying power of the UK continues to undergo a radical transformation.

Employers who embrace diversity sell themselves to a wider talent pool. Firms that can illustrate they ‘walk the walk’ will win in the war for talent. Businesses with a diverse workforce will attract a wider customer base, will better recognise potential markets and provide a more tailored service.

Discrimination claims are bad for business – not least because they result in bad publicity. Last year’s record claim for sex discrimination against Merrill Lynch for £7.8m may have been rejected, but that is rarely what the media focus on.

It has to be accepted that firms cannot simply expect employees to embrace diversity overnight. It requires an investment in culture change that disseminates over time. Companies must aim for diversity to become integrated into the way a company functions. Diversity is not an option: it’s an imperative.

Sasha Scott is managing director of consultancy Inclusive Diversity.

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