Workplace “Diversity” Is Dishonest. It’s Time We Focused On Inclusivity, Instead

As a company culture consultant, I talk a lot about diversity.

It’s the buzzword du jour. Ever since that McKinsey study proved that diverse businesses deliver 35% better results, many founders want a piece of the pie. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of a Twitter war. Everyone wants to stay relevant.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These conversations often come from a place of genuine care. It’s 2019, after all. Founders can’t afford not to care. But data shows that, despite the hype, we still have a long way to go.

So, what gives? Why are so many diversity efforts, despite their best intentions, failing?

I’m a black man who’s led People Ops at coveted tech companies like WeWork and Casper. I’ve seen the struggle from both sides. From my experience, it all comes down to one overlooked component: inclusivity.

Yep. Inclusivity. Because here’s the thing: diversity and inclusivity aren’t interchangeable terms. A diverse range of identities make up our society, but we’re not all equally included in the workplace. Fact.

You can make diverse hires, but if you don’t have an inclusive company culture, they’ll be forced to conform. 

Inclusivity isn’t a sexy pastel-coloured marketing campaign. Nor is it an ‘inclusive’ staff photo that shows you’re cool with all kinds of people. No. Inclusivity is ensuring that every hire you make truly becomes part of the fabric of your company. It’s about values and action. 

The wake-up call that was Glossier

Picture the scene: I’m sat at Glossier’s HQ in New York. They’ve approached me about a VP, People opening and I’m there for a final interview with Emily Weiss et al. Sat in their open-plan offices, it suddenly hits me: this is the first HQ I’ve been in that’s not overwhelmingly full of straight white men. 

Damn.

Significant proportions of Team Glossier are women of colour, queer people of colour, the list goes gloriously on… And they’re all thriving in a workplace unburdened by patriarchal bullshit (including, may I add, the straight white men who work there). 

It’s such an ‘oh snap’ moment that I suddenly realise a sad truth: I’d never been conscious of just how patriarchal the HQ of EVERY workplace I’d ever encountered was. In part because, as one of the few black people invited to the party, I was drinking the Kool-Aid and just happy to be there.

Glossier exemplifies inclusivity. The company both rejects a monolithic patriarchal school of thought AND hires humans who shared their values. 

The beauty of this approach is that anyone from any background can share your values and be inspired by your mission. 

Team members become a culture-add, and by bringing different perspectives and skills to the table, an even stronger company is cultivated as a result. I say culture-add very deliberately. Culture-fit makes for a monoculture where everyone thinks the same way, went to the same schools, looks the same and has largely had the same experiences (snore). 

Isn’t it interesting that, even as a black person, it took being immersed in Glossier’s HQ to wake up and realise that every HQ I’d ever been in before was blindingly uninclusive?

Our approach to building inclusivity (actual inclusivity)

At Black Unicorn, inclusivity is a central pillar of what we’re building. Founders often ask us how we can help them be more “diverse”. The first thing I do is (kindly) make the distinction above and encourage them to work to be more inclusive, instead. The second thing I do is ask how inclusive they are.

You see, it really does start with the founders. At Black Unicorn, we can design strategies and policies all day every day. But if the founders themselves don’t actually care? It just won’t work.

I’m not saying that every founder without a diverse group of friends is doomed to fail. Nor am I saying every founder needs to be singing “kum ba yah” around the campfire in a celebration of human life. Not at all. What I am saying is that, if inclusivity genuinely matters to you as a founder, you need to challenge yourself to do the work.

Where to start? By having an honest and judgement-free conversation with yourself. Personally, I own that I embody disadvantage, privilege and positive (read: usually problematic) discrimination all at once. You don’t have to get as deep into this subject as I do, but you do have to accept that we’re all flawed and always learning and growing.

Educating yourself starts now

I’m also a big believer in self-education. Everyone should read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. You can follow the likes of Guilaine Kinouani (@KGuilaine), Munroe Burgdorf (@MunroeBergdorf), Nikesh Shukla (@NikeshShukla) and Francesca Martinez (@chessmartinez) on Twitter. You can attend events with panels with different opinions and backgrounds. You can listen to the Kicking the Kyriarchy podcast. Search “Akala” on YouTube and watch the tireless discussions he’s been having way from way before diversity became a trend. 

These people are literally doing the work. All you need to do is listen, take your ego out of the equation, and unlearn some bullshit.

The more you know, the more your consciousness develops and the more you can actually start creating a space where everyone can win. This topic is ever-evolving, so your learning is never going to be complete, but knowledge is power. And with more knowledge, you can be more successful in how you attract, hire, develop and retain talent that will build an inclusive company culture. Ready to get started? 

INCLUSIVITY STARTS HERE. IT STARTS WITH YOU.

Black Unicorn is in the business of building genuine inclusivity through progressive hiring and culture transformation. If you’re ready to reinvent your company’s approach to talent, get in touch. We’d love to talk.