If there is one thing that I have learnt about success in business in my career, it is that it’s all about people, and that having a culture of belonging, where everyone can show up, contribute, and be themselves, is business critical.
As well as my personal experience of growing MediaCom from a small media buying shop with £44m turnover to a global business where turnover in the UK alone is now £2bn, I have spent 2 years researching, interviewing, and writing about inclusion and belonging.
Current diversity and inclusion (D+I) measures in business are not delivering. D+I is an $8 billion industry, but the money spent doesn’t look like it is reaping returns.
Our unique research in the UK and USA (by Dynata) amongst the whole workforce shows that one in three people in the UK feel like they don’t belong. (1 in 4 in the USA). Over half the workforce doesn’t believe that their leader takes personal responsibility for D+I. And for me, shockingly, one in three people overall has actually experienced bias, harassment, or inappropriate behaviour at work.
If you dig into the research, in fact, these figures are stark for the underrepresented groups—underrepresented in the workforce and in management. In the UK, 60% of mixed race people say they have had this experience; LGBTQ+ 48%; new mums 36%; black 40%; registered disabled 59%; neurodiverse 54%. In the US, the stats are also shocking: Hispanic, Latinx, and Spanish (36%), Black, African American (43%), registered disabled (55%), neurodiverse (65%), LGBTQ+ (49%), and new mothers (58%).
Despite the activity in this arena over the last few years, women and minority groups are still absent from the top boards. The FTSE 100 has 36% women on its boards, but only 3% of them are executives. There are only eight female executives.There are 6 BAME CEOs, and in fact, there are more CEOs called Steve than women running those companies. It’s similar in the US. Just 41 women and 4 black men are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
To quote Stephanie Mehta, editor in chief of Fast Company magazine: “Despite spending billions, companies can’t buy diversity.” This is despite widespread proof that diversity drives profitability—McKinsey states that the best quartile companies for diversity drive 35% better returns.
Our book explores why this failure to create diversity in leadership persists and details what can be done about it with case studies, shared experiences, and workshop exercises.
One core reason lies in diversity fatigue. This works in two ways:
1. It affects the people it is meant to support, who are sick of yet another initiative that doesn’t do anything to change the situation and It affects the men in power, who are fed up with feeling in the wrong and excluded.
Currently, diversity initiatives can exclude the people in charge. We need to change the narrative to one of belonging, as Asif Sadiq, head of equity at Warner says, “Diversity is great, we need to realise the difference.” We’re trying to make that diversity mix work. But where we really need to get to is belonging. Creating a sense of belonging for all people.”
We have built a Manifesto for Belonging:
- Without the involvement of everyone in the workplace, diversity initiatives will not succeed.
- We need everyone to understand and implement strategies for belonging.
- Everyone should feel safe bringing their real selves to work.
- Everyone should feel that they belong in their workplace.
- Everyone should believe that success in their organisation is based on how they can contribute, not who they are.
- Everyone feels safe enough to challenge and express opinions.
It’s easy to talk about, but here are some of the ways we are practically working on our belonging culture at MediaCom, where our slogan: People First, Better Results” is not just a slogan but an ethos that runs through the heart of everyone that works here.
We specify that candidate shortlists must be inclusive and talent mapped in the UK to reflect the cities we work in, not just the population overall. We have several employee resource groups, and we run structured listening sessions with the top leadership team.
We run a sponsorship programme for those who are underrepresented in senior management, and our annual Belonging survey uncovers just how people are really feeling.We’ve run microaggression workshops to enable more microaggressions. We also have a Global Belonging Council that I am proud to have a seat on, where we share our best practises worldwide.
Our Belonging book has now been published in paperback, and there is new and startling research on how things have changed during the last two years of remote and hybrid working. There are many challenges moving forward in ensuring a better, kinder workplace, and all of us must take an active role.
About the Author:
Sue Unerman is Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom and co-author of 3 books: Tell the Truth, Honesty is your most powerful marketing tool; The Glass Wall, Success Strategies for Women at Work and Businesses that Mean Business; Belonging, the key to transforming and maintaining diversity, inclusion, and equality at work, is out now in paperback. Sue’s regular blog is at www.sueunerman.com