Is Inclusion the greatest positive social change movement in a generation?
By Dan Snell, Co-Founder, Arrival Education
For some time, many business leaders have considered Inclusion as a soft, fuzzy, woke-ish, feminine agenda and irrelevant, commercially speaking. But now the opposite turns out to be true.
These laggard leaders find themselves in a sort of double bind. Caught between not really believing in it, nor fully understanding it, whilst, not wanting to publicly admit it or knowing what to do about it.
Rock, hard place.
Additionally, the time has run out for kicking it down the line. It is no longer enough to merely say the right things, you have to do and deliver on the right things also.
Outcomes not statements and activity
All the training, listening groups, reports, awards, events, statements, D&I hires won’t mean a thing, unless the organisation and leadership team are committed to the right outcomes.
The commercial necessity for implementing business Inclusion is blatantly clear now. The challenge for leaders who ‘didn’t want it or don’t understand it’ is that they are waking up to the fact that it is very hard to get right and even harder to deliver successfully. Which is partly why so many organisations have been giving it lip service till now.
Inclusion — the engine for change
Every opportunity we get, we’re telling business leaders that the Inclusion* agenda is the greatest positive business change movement in a generation and it’s finally found its moment. We have certainly never been busier.
Critically, it meets the current needs of businesses, nearly all of whom are under real pressure to change. Inclusion has the benefit of being uniquely non-political — after all, inclusion generally supports the majority, even if it may challenge the interests of a powerful minority. As a result, it’s more likely to drive social mobility than any tainted political party, agenda or Govt. legislation. More on this at the end of the article.
Almost all organisations and leaders are currently changing some aspect of what they do, and how they do it, and although they may not have all grasped it yet, the Inclusion agenda is just the thing they need to achieve the accelerated change they are after.
What’s potentially so exciting about Inclusion, on top of the already understood commercial benefits, is the incredible energetic power and alchemy it has to deliver sustainable organisational and cultural change. It also fits with and supports the rise of Agile business practices too.
Inclusion IS change
Change, by its very nature, means you have to give up something before you grasp something new.
Covid has created a perfect storm for enforced business change, further accelerating a range of changes that were already happening, driven mainly by the advancement of technology.
Additionally, many sectors and organisations are struggling with the required speed and depth of this Covid/Lockdown change. This is partly due to the fact that business change also brings with it behavioural and cultural change as well as pricing, product, staffing, leadership, strategic or market sector change.
For instance, why did so many high street retail firms now going into administration not develop an online strategy? A quick look at the executive team will have told you all you needed to know. I remember well a conversation about a CEO of a major UK retail firm (who will remain nameless) who was still using a Filofax and resisted using his own organisation's online delivery platform for which he was accountable.
Imagine trying to deliver a business-critical or strategic change programme, when all your key people are stuck at home. Do you think that from the comfort of their own sofa that they are going to do new, demanding, awkward, uncomfortable things?
Best of luck with that.
But what’s incredible about the Inclusion agenda is it directly connects and engages with many of the issues that business leaders are wrestling with — open-mindedness, entrepreneurship, new ideas, agile working, innovation, drive, new market access, values, better decision-making, cultural cohesion, connectedness, identity etc.
Tin Eared — produce results or you’re fired
Good Lord though, to make life even harder than it needs to be, some (under stress) leaders who are desperate to have their people embrace change, are basically saying — ‘we’re asking you to pull in your belt (again), and do more if you want to be part of the future!’ In other words, it’s the threat of losing jobs that leaders hope will drive the change they’re looking for.
But that approach seldom, if ever, works. Fear and anxiety rarely drive positive cultural change or innovation. People typically hunker down, get busy looking busy, defend/protect and revert to what they know, when they become worried or stressed.
Inclusion is here to stay
On top of the fact that it allows businesses to openly engage with culture change and difference, there is a range of reasons that the Inclusion agenda has become a structural business necessity now, here are a few:
More empowered women in work and in leadership positions
- More empowered women in work and in leadership positions
- The democratising force of the internet(ending autocratic monopolies)
- The rise of the meritocracy agenda (talent over privilege)
- The rising importance of single-issue politics
- Cultural and societal expectations
- The need to seek new market opportunities and new approaches
- Legal, reputational and brand requirements and risktational and brand requirements and risk
However, you could argue that it’s the pressure of younger talent entering the workforce that’s driving much of this agenda. And it’s often coming from privileged young people too. In many cases, it’s the children of the CEOs who tease their ‘out of touch’ dad over the dinner table, which is landing the issues.
The next generation of talent/future leaders simply won’t tolerate the sort of work narratives, cultures, behaviours, expectations and practices that Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers expected. Businesses who don’t understand the speed of this change, simply won’t be able to recruit or retain the best young talent and will continue to fall behind, becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Millennials aren’t buying
But it isn’t just about perceptions — the levers have all changed too.
You see, the things that motivated the Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers don’t motivate Millennials or Gen -Zers in the same way. Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers tolerated toxic cultures (and all the ‘isms’) and work practices because there was the potential pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which now, sadly — for all but a very few — no longer exists.
Back in the day, it was understood that if you went to uni, worked hard, got a good job, played the game and were ‘career’ smart, you would get on in life. The dream was — buy a house and a big car (upgrade regularly), pay off the mortgage and retire early, with a generous final salary pension, and then off into the sunset you sailed on your cruise holiday or golf course.
That dream is no longer realistic for today’s young people, so why on earth would they tolerate the same c**p work cultures, behaviours and expectations?
It may take a decade just to pay off their tuition fees, never mind get a deposit together to climb onto the out-of-reach property ladder. Forget the 2nd home/holiday house and school fees. This generation also carries the anxiety of an environmental dystopian future, which they will inherit and are supposed to resolve. Now throw the Covid bailout debt on there too and you’ll have to excuse them if they aren’t just going to lie down and do as they’re told. They are more educated, empowered, aware and have higher expectations than we did. They won’t tolerate the Harvey Weinstein’s of this world and are quick to vocalise their feelings and influence and challenge online. Understandably, they’re more interested in sustainability, provenance, environmental issues, purpose and work cultures than the mythical pot of gold.
If they can’t have the same dream we did, they want things to be bearable at least. Which means, they don’t want to work unsustainably. They won’t push themselves in the same way we did, as there is no early exit or end in sight with a payout, generous pensions, or bonus (unless they own a tech business). So, at the very least, they expect empowering, inclusive cultures, which allow them to be fully themselves — not some stressed misshapen, weird version — configured to fit into a dysfunctional culture or manage a selfish/ambitious manager.
Final point — Inclusion and social mobility
Covid has further laid bare the social divides that still haunt our society. Like the American Dream on social mobility, we Brits hold onto the same narrative of work hard, get ahead regardless of social class or circumstances of birth!
A dream which is handed down, generation-to-generation, and retold from immigrant-to-immigrant. A land of abundance.
The trouble is that for most people the dream of social mobility is no longer achievable and the data supports this. From the Social Mobility Barometer poll carried out by YouGov:
- Only a third of 18 to 24-year-olds thought everyone in Britain had a fair chance to progress, compared with almost half of those aged 65+
- Most people of all ages agreed there were fewer opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to a top university or to own their own home compared with their better-off peers.
- 44% agreed that where a person ends up in society was largely determined by their background but only 35% felt that everyone had a fair chance to get on.
What this says is material and social improvement is increasingly a rising drawbridge for the privileged. The privilege of intergenerational success and all that it offers, be it access to the correct knowledge, education, and career opportunities, as well as the basics of sustenance, love, safety, security etc.
I may be the first person to articulate this, but I strongly believe the Inclusion movement/agenda — and mainly due to the fact businesses need it — will be more powerful and more likely to drive real social change, equality and social mobility than any modern political force.
Luckily, it’s universal and bigger than any one political party. Business needs to change — at pace — and by engaging with potentially challenging future ideas, practices and concepts. The Inclusion movement/agenda allows for that in a way no other business change agenda ever has. It’s the key but also the rocket fuel to business transformation.
Inclusion is here to stay. The leaders and organisations that don’t unlock the Diversity Dividend** right now, will firstly look out of touch and then in time, they will look ridiculous, old fashioned, irrelevant. Old curmudgeons, holding on too long, whilst wilfully taking the ship down, like all those out-of-touch, slow-to-change retail businesses, who couldn’t digitize their businesses in time.
*The Inclusion agenda is a movement to include and empower all people at all levels in work and society, irrespective of race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Giving equal access, opportunities and equity to all, through the removal of barriers, discrimination, biases and intolerance so that everyone can flourish.
**The Diversity Dividend is the commercial and market realisation obtained by organisations who can successfully attract, retain and progress diverse talent to their competitive advantage.