We know that sport can, and does, have a profound positive impact on individuals, communities and wider society. Whether it’s economic impact, health benefits, educational development, cohesion or self-development, we can all think of stories amongst our family and friends that remind us how sport made a difference in the lives of those closest to us. Sport for sport’s sake is also to be celebrated within this.
There are also many challenges facing the sports industry, and in many areas, including sustaining stakeholder engagement, technology as a disrupter, poor facilities, reducing volunteer support and the changing demographic of stakeholders and therefore expectations. Diversity and Inclusion is one increasingly vital part, including crucial questions such as whether each organisation and its people are behaving in an ethically sound manner, transparently and honestly. Such issues are at the heart of the sustainability of the sports sector and the strong movement towards ensuring Diversity and Inclusion is a result of the fact that key players are realising that without investment in this space, the future of the industry, from elite performance to business survival and growth, is under threat.
At the heart of Diversity and Inclusion is the idea that every human being should be able to develop an understanding of their true unrestrained potential and they should then able to achieve that. An inclusive society is one that focuses on equality, balance, growth and empowerment across the globe. Apart from a moral understanding of the “right” way to run the sports industry and to treat people equally, there is a growing realisation that the potential for long-term sustainability of the industry is weaker without paying attention to Diversity and Inclusion. The truth is, we are so far down the exclusion path that diversity is not going to occur by accident. It will need to be a conscious leadership decision, followed by meaningful, directed action throughout our organisations and communities.
Our world is continuously changing and becoming more diverse and globally interconnected. Diversity and Inclusion, therefore, is inherently linked to business performance behind the scenes as well as on the pitch. The argument for the latter is clear – the wider the pool of talent, the greater the likelihood of selecting the cream of the crop. The argument for the former should organically follow the same form as that of performance on the pitch. Instead, it takes numerous surveys and research to prove the point.
One of the significant pieces of research I turn to is that by McKinsay who, in 2014, looked at the Fortune 100 companies and found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to outperform their competitors. They also found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors. This could suggest that the women being hired into leadership positions are the female equivalent of the men and are therefore not contributing the competitive advantage that diversity promises. The case for ethnic diversity seems stronger than that of gender diversity. Yet, the pace of change is achingly slow.
The global population is getting older due to falling birth rates in developed countries. It is estimated that by 2050, India will hold the largest population, surpassing China, and the greatest percentage increase in population will come in Africa. The UK is no different with an increasingly ageing population amongst White British communities and a comparatively younger population in non-white groups who are estimated to make up 20% of the UK population by 2050.
The UK and the world at large are changing and becoming more diverse in every sense. For sports organisations to continue to meet the demands of an increasingly diverse community, the entire industry must shift to an inclusive mindset. Various organisations from diverse industries, such as Johnson and Johnson, PwC, West Midlands Police and Microsoft, have begun to institute such practice, driven in part by stakeholder and consumer trends towards ethical and inclusive values and practices. These ethically conscious customers are willing to move elsewhere and reject organisations that are not matching their strong values by voting with their feet. If people make an organisation, then everyone can play their part towards creating an inclusive society where customers can closely identify with sports organisations.
Organisations can be intrinsically linked to financial health and strength whilst educating all stakeholders, internal and external, about Diversity and Inclusion and the effect it and inequality has on the world, including their organisation and people. Those with high ethical practices have the power to influence governments and people across the world and they can be the powerful force that drives positive global change against the challenges we face. This commitment requires a shift from short-term to long-term mindsets with long-term thought and action taken now. However, there are challenges in ensuring that Diversity and Inclusion isn’t just a tick box exercise or a PR management exercise, rather one that is verifiably linked to and embedded within an organisation’s DNA.
One way of achieving this is through a transparent review of the make-up of the organisations – not just the numbers, but the qualitative aspects in terms of experiences and working practices, as well as areas such as interconnectivity and whom people turn to when consulting on key issues and decisions. It is much easier to implement and monitor practices when the working partnerships, decision making flows and ownership in the processes are clearer.
Similarly, diversity training and education is great, but limited in impact. Like any habit, Diversity and Inclusion can be addressed from an education standpoint where we all go through the motions and we will see an improvement in the workforce statistics. However, this is unlikely to yield meaningful change in the long run. What gets measured does get done, but there are no easy fixes. Organisations need to get serious about actual diversity in their workforces – where the differences within the group are leveraged for competitive advantage and not just managed. Where the culture and environment within which people work enable them to embrace their differences and therefore flourish for the benefit of all.
When it comes to culture, there is no bigger driver for setting the tone than the leadership of an organisation. Inclusion is an essential leadership competency. It is where Inclusion starts and flows down to every level of the organisation. Do leaders recruit individuals for their magic and then suck that magic out of them because they have to conform to the organisation’s norms? Or do leaders unleash the potential of their staff through their own inclusive practice? In this, inclusivity is an act which must, through continuous practice, develop into just as strong an instinct for leaders as the movement of elite athletes on the field of play.
Preparation, review and analysis is the bread and butter of experts within sport, whether in terms of technical performance or commercial success. Sport is inherently about competition, winning. It is this competitive opportunity that must be seized to help create the step change we wish to see. It requires creativity in shifting long-embedded cultures, and innovation in capturing easy methodologies for interpreting and comparing growth in Diversity and Inclusion across the industry. The move towards greater transparency and the increased scrutiny on all sectors will drive changes in reporting standards and regulations, which will help thought leadership as we drive the Diversity and Inclusion agenda forward. The recent UK requirement to publish gender pay gaps is just one example of how regulation has resulted in greater thinking to act to reduce inequalities.
If the idea of inclusive values can be embedded within sport, this will undoubtedly drive a fairer and more sustainable global society. The power of sport cannot be underestimated. The two are intrinsically linked. Sports organisations globally are at the forefront of some of the world’s most innovative commercial practices. With that innovation and creative thinking outside of the usual parameters, they are ideally placed to drive change to achieve the aim of an equitable global community.
Our interconnected world is increasingly diverse and yet becoming increasingly polarised. It could be argued that this is due to policies, politics and politicians but the fourth P, people, is where there is a significant opportunity to change the narrative and contribute to building that fairer and inclusive society. This role doesn’t have to be played by those on the sidelines or in silos but must be played by those inside institutions, like me, who can effect change right in the heart of the “system”.
I am currently on this journey of “social intrapreneurship” and I hope you will join me on it.