Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Unleashing the business value of inclusivity

By Winnie Palmer, EMEA Head of Marketing, Seismic

There have been many challenges on the lips of business leaders over the last 12 months. Disruption, resilience and sustainability to name just a few. But another issue that can’t be overlooked – particularly in the technology industry – is inclusivity.

Whereas diversity focuses on acknowledging and celebrating people’s differences, inclusivity is all about creating an environment where different perspectives, backgrounds and communication styles are equally valued. From a workplace perspective, it comes down to creating a culture in which people feel confident to be themselves and are empowered to add value. 

That’s something that hasn’t always been a given. A male manager once shouted at me to “get out of here if you don’t like it” in an all-male conference room. Being a young woman, I was an easy target. Luckily workplace culture has evolved much since, just demonstrating how important inclusivity has become.

Start at the top

First, let’s consider the board level. Digital transformation is critical for ensuring long-term business growth and sustainability. As such, it is now a board level topic. Board members are paying closer attention to the potential impact that digital could have on their organisation, as well as the risks of failing to digitise effectively. It’s a careful balancing act that is dominating discussion in boardrooms around the world.

Unsurprisingly, boards are generally comprised of experienced, seasoned professionals. Although this offers plenty of benefits in terms of business acumen, it also means that most board members are not digital natives. CEOs are 55.6 years old on average, while the average age of non-executive directors has increased from 59.8 years in 2021 to 59.9 in 2022. The same trend is seen among chairs, with the average age reaching 65 this year.

Then there’s the gender gap. Only a third of board members in the technology industry are women. While things are continuing to move in the right direction, there’s still work to be done to drive top-down diversity and inclusivity. And there should be plenty of motivation for companies to do so, as it can have a material impact on business success.

Plenty of studies have shown that performance improves when diverse views are included in strategic conversations. But thinking beyond diversity to true inclusion is where the biggest opportunities lie. For example, boards that effectively integrate women exhibit a more collaborative decision-making process, minimising issues such as competitive communication styles that can lead to differing viewpoints being overlooked.

Fostering a more inclusive mindset can also drive better performance and shareholder relations. Companies with well-integrated female directors at board level experienced 10% higher stock returns, while their shareholders were 8% less likely to formally oppose board decisions. This demonstrates why businesses should be thinking beyond diversity to true inclusivity.

Workforce wins

Then there’s the workforce as a whole. In the context of empowering talent, inclusivity may be a more important concept than diversity. Instead of focusing on people’s differences, inclusivity reframes the conversation to what each individual can bring to the table and the business. It is more outcome-driven, as the creation of an inclusive work environment is actionable – something management can strive to implement. 

This all feeds into employee growth and development, where data starts to play a greater role. Data brings transparency and accountability into all areas of a business, and inclusivity is no exception. Historically, one of the biggest issues within the technology industry has been the lack of female role models. In order to develop, people need coaching and mentoring. They need the right support; role models they can look up to (both inside and outside the business) to provide inspiration and guidance.

But the lack of female role models is still a challenge that many businesses are struggling to solve. Organisations can start understanding their specific situation by collecting and analysing gender data within their key business metrics in a granular manner. For example, a company may have an equal number of male and female employees across the business as a whole, but an imbalance when it comes to management. This could highlight an opportunity to promote more female leaders from within or introduce new policies that help retain female talent as women progress through their careers.

It’s clear that businesses have a lot to think about as we head into 2023, but inclusivity should absolutely be one of the key focus areas. From empowering employees to enabling more effective strategic decision-making, giving underrepresenting groups such as women an equal voice will deliver benefits long into the future.