Diversity - just how important is it?

liz bingham

19 / 8 / 2015 9am

Passionate advocate for equality and diversity, Liz Bingham OBE, discusses the importance of diversity in this opinion piece - giving us a taster of what's to come when she speaks at our upcoming conference on on 23 September – Working Better for Patients: Diversity and Inclusion in the NHS. 

"It seems like you can’t turn a page in the business papers, or tune into news reports or social media, without somebody talking or writing about diversity and inclusion. I have been a passionate advocate of diversity for decades, but sometimes it feels a bit like Groundhog Day. I can’t believe that in 2015 we are still having to talk about it -  whether that is better gender balance on boards, better ethnic balance on boards or whether or not marriage should be available to same sex couples!

The business case for diversity is irrefutable, you only have to look at the McKinsey/Credit Suisse and other research to see that diverse teams which are led inclusively, deliver better business results. A clear and compelling case has been made that growth (surely the holy grail) comes from thinking differently, harnessing difference and encouraging people to speak up or speak out with different ideas. In a nutshell, you can’t group think out of the box!

I have a personal interest in this topic as I am a gay woman from a working class background, who was state school educated and isn’t a graduate. This is not an obvious recipe for success in the world of professional services but my Mum used to say, if you aim for the moon you might hit the top of a tree! So, with those words of advice ringing in my ears and being fortunate enough to learn from people who were naturally inclusive, I was able to achieve great success in my career.

The challenge here is probably human nature. We naturally succumb to affinity bias as we feel more comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who are like us. That might be as nuanced as both being extroverts or introverts, not just the obvious diversity that over the years have become characteristics protected by law.

It is much more difficult to make a group of very different people become an effective team. Not least because if you create an environment where people are encouraged to speak their minds, there will inevitably be a degree of tension borne out of disagreement that then needs to be managed.

I doubt whether we will ever know if the global financial crisis could have been avoided if those at the heart of the financial architecture of the day, actually challenged one another about the sustainability of the actions they were taking. I would hypothesise however, that a macho (and  I don’t mean male) , risk-taking culture fueled by self-interest and lacking in diversity was at the root of the problem that we are all still trying to recover from. If there had been a few more voices pointing out that the emperor was in fact walking naked, history may well have been written differently."

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