Diversity is not a business case

Holding business leaders accountable for the diverse, open and inclusive office environments they claim to foster is long overdue as these buzz words have sadly become clichés that sit on the ‘About’ page of company’s websites. We are making strides towards a more open and diverse world where social media has allowed us to highlight and publicise wrongdoing, ignite the need for change and review events and actions with an ever more moral lens. Business leaders are usually under scrutiny for financial performance, market position and company mergers but are now feeling the pressure of social accountability from investors when evidence of their lapses in moral and ethical judgement get into the public sphere, often ending in their resignation.

A recent example of social accountability leading to a resignation is Adam Rapport, editor-in-chief at Bon Appetit. With the momentum built-up by the Black Lives Matter movement Sohla El-Waylly, a food editor, spoke out against the inherent racism and discrimination harboured at the Bon Appetite building. After an old social media post showing Mr Rapport dressed up as a Puerto Rican for a fancy-dress party was resurfaced and compared to as a modern-day equivalent of the infamous ‘blackface’ images, he stepped down, citing his blind spots as an editor as the main reason.

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While Mr Rapport wasn’t a traditional CEO, he still held a high position of leadership and the subsequent ‘sacrificing’ of this position is not new or exclusive to the Black Lives Matter movement. During the #MeToo movement several leaders stepped down including, CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves, billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn and Intel’s chief Brian Krzanich.

But how much change does a ceremonious sacrifice yield? Yes, hopefully it makes room for a leader with stronger moral and ethical direction with a real passion to drive change, but understanding the company structures, can we be sure this will happen? Or will the next in line simply step up only to be a much more cautious leader and not a true champion of change?

Most chief executives spend just five years in their jobs. In 2018 more CEOs left because of lapses in ethical conduct than due to the typical complaint of poor financial performance according to a study from business consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. One can only presume a CEO who has spent five years in their position will have surrounded themselves with like-minded individuals. Not to say that all are implicit but when it comes to office cultures that are rotting from the top down, if you are not a part of the solution you are most certainly a part of the problem.

Cultural change is notoriously difficult in a corporate organisation where values are placed on compensation, position and prestige, but now that the standard has been raised and anti-racism is what we expect, can they step up to the mark?

Companies may talk about diversity but we don’t have to look too far to see the lack of representation among the higher echelons of corporations. It is a well-known fact there are only four black CEOs among the Fortune 500 companies. Although we have come a long way over the past couple of decades, there is still much to be done. It is important to understand that companies are rarely setting the mark but playing catch up or cleaning up a PR mess.

We need to be optimistic but sceptical of any sudden expressions of solidarity from corporations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder who have otherwise stayed silent on the topic of racism while perpetuating racial inequality through their set ways of hiring, promoting or fairly paying black people and people of colour for years. If you look online as to reasons why an employer should foster a diverse workplace you will see benefits listed like “Attract and retain a diverse customer base,” “Avoid unlawful discrimination, costly legal fees and bad publicity,” amongst others. Diversity isn’t a business case, it is a basic human necessity for progress and something we are all responsible for.

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