Q&A: 'Diversity doesn’t have to be burdensome – it’s magic'

23 Aug 2017 By Cathryn Newbery

Stonewall co-founder and D&I consultant Simon Fanshawe on how to bridge the gap between good intentions and real change

Simon Fanshawe

Simon Fanshawe’s route to the HR sphere is more unusual than most, taking in stand-up comedy, journalism and broadcasting. Now, through his consultancy, Diversity by Design, he’s keen to tell HR practitioners: “Don’t put together a business case for diversity – that’s like putting together a business case for love. Diversity isn’t something you do – it’s the way you do something.”

What are we still getting wrong on diversity and inclusion?

If D&I was a product line with this bad a return on investment, it would have been stopped or changed quite radically. People haven’t seen it as a business opportunity, or been able to think about it in terms of widening talent pipelines.

I always talk about the difference between diversity deficits and diversity dividends. The deficits are the structural lacks of opportunity that are happening because processes and people’s preferences drive them towards choices they don’t necessarily want to make.

We work with the NHS, where white people are 1.74 times more likely to go from a shortlist to a job than BAME candidates. That’s because there are a lot of informal appointments; managers hire people they know and trust. We are working with an NHS trust with a workforce that is about 80:20 white to black; the effect there is to discriminate against BAME staff – even if that’s not the intention.

Then there are the dividends. Leaders need to be able to answer the question: why would you bother to diversify your staff? What is the commercial advantage? And what does that mean for the combination of difference you need in different teams and functions? Then you have to change the system and the processes to support that.

But it’s important to emphasise that it can be fun. There’s always been this mistake around diversity that it is rather heavy, rather burdensome, a bit serious. And it is bloody serious if you are denying people opportunities, but the sheer joy of opening up opportunities for people is magic – it’s really lovely.

Are employee networks effective at encouraging change?

I don’t think employee networks can ever drive the change – they can only ever be a resource for the change. Change has to be driven by people who have the power to do it. Being clear about the terms of reference of employee networks, and how this insight can help improve the business, is fundamental.

Resource groups are useful in helping people articulate how they are and who they are, and how that combination can bring insight to a company. I’m gay, which isn’t interesting in itself, but there is something interesting about growing up gay. So what insight does that give me as a board member or consultant or as an employee?

I did something for Rolls-Royce’s LGBT network the other week, and I said: ‘In the next meeting, don’t make it about LGBT issues – make it about the future of aerospace and get everyone along. Just contribute to the business.’

What support do line managers need?

Years ago, I interviewed the director Sam Mendes, and he said he talks to each of his actors using different language, because what you want from one actor in terms of their character is very different from what you want from someone else.

That’s what management is. People think managing difference is more difficult, but that’s because you think you can manage them all the same. But people aren’t all the same – you just think they are. There’s a real illusion to managing homogeneity.

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