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Why diversity is good for business: It’s a social and economic win-win

At WGSN Insider we are always on the lookout for new books that offer up innovative business strategies. So when the proof of new book, Diversify from June Sarpong MBE dropped on our desk, we were more than intrigued. The book, which is published later this month, works as both an academic piece of research and a strategy roadmap for businesses, by outlining the numerous benefits of diversity. We’ve spoken in the past about diversity here on the blog and the brands that have spearheaded inclusion over separation, a theme that is even more relevant to today’s diverse consumer market. With brands like Jigsaw which just launched its new Jigsaw Loves Immigration fashion campaign, to Dove’s recent failure to predict the backlash against its recent insensitive campaign, brands now more than ever need to address diversity (or the lack of) within their business.

So, ahead of the launch of her book, we asked June Sarpong MBE to guest blog on WGSN Insider about the importance of diversity.

“Over the last decade the ‘business case’ for diversity has increased dramatically it’s become part of the business zeitgeist and is an often used buzzword. In fact, diversity and inclusion officers are becoming as commonplace as HR directors. On Oct 19th I release my new book Diversify – Six Degrees Of Integration, a polemic that argues the moral, social and economic benefits of diversity. This is something I am fervently passionate about and think business can lead the way on.

A recent comprehensive report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) sets out the key business benefits for developing diversity orientated organisations. These include:

  • Greater access to different perspectives and sources of information
  • Greater understanding of customers 
  • Better and more authentic communication with customers 
  • Increased legitimacy

A similar report by the Work Foundation showed:

  • Improved company performance 
  • Improved employer image 
  • Improved brand awareness
  • Improved ability to respond to change and tackle challenges through creativity and innovation 
  • Innovative approaches to products 
  • Reflective diversity makes customers feel at home and a deeper emotional connection with brand

None of us consider ourselves to be that person who would prejudge a person and exclude them because of their exterior.  Why? Well, because we know it’s wrong and goes against the very thing that makes us human. And yet we are all trained to do precisely that. Think about how many enriching, enlightening and maybe magical moments we miss out on every day because of our obsession with external packaging and the boxes we put people in.  These are limiting beliefs that are ingrained in all of us, limiting beliefs that we often deny, or are unaware of therefore seldom challenge.

Stereotypes, assumptions, imagery on who should lead and who should follow limits potential, which is limiting for us all, as that untapped potential may have the solutions for some  of the complex problems for the modern age.

It’s packaging more than national boundaries or language that creates the separation between individuals.  Separation seems to be the order of the day – so much so, that ironically we even describe the way we are connected as 6 degrees of separation! Now’s there an oxymoron if ever I heard one. My book examines how we move from 6 degrees of separation to 6 degrees of integration, through six simple steps that can be applied, personally, professionally and through public policy.

When I talk about diversity, I mean it in a very broad sense: Gender, Race, Disability, Class & Age. I worked with the team at Oxford University on research for my book and some of the findings were surprising. The most discriminated group are those with disabilities, disability cuts across all of the “Other” groups and the one group we seldom challenge our exclusion of. 1 in 5 people in the UK has a form of disability, that’s almost 12 million people, 57% of those have mobility issues and 80% of people with a disability were not born that way. This is a real growth area for the fashion sector in terms of designing clothing specifically for those with mobility issues.

In terms of staffing, the tech industry is really leading the way in this area, by purposely seeking out individuals with Aspergers for coding and data processing – companies like IBM, Microsoft, German tech giant SAP and entrepreneurs like Peter Theil realise that neuro diversity is an asset to the workplace. There are currently 1.4 million people in the UK with a learning disability only 6% are in work, what a sad waste of potential but also an exciting new talent pool for businesses.

Brexit means companies are going to have relook at how talent is sourced.  Let’s be honest diversity can be uncomfortable, there are changes that need to be made within a company’s culture to fully accommodate it, but once we understand the true value – we accept that the discomfort is indeed worth it.

I would suggest a diversity audit for companies with more than fifty employees, a real look at each area of the business and then setting yourselves goals and targets in this area. For business leaders, you need to make sure that all of your team understands the benefit and why this is important. The businesses that are able to crack the diversity code today will undoubtedly be the winners of tomorrow.”

Diversify: Six Degrees of Integration by June Sarpong is published by HQ HarperCollins on the 19th October in hardback, ebook and audio book. Find out more here

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