Type the word ‘diversity’ into Google and the chances are, if you’re based in the UK, that your first hit will be the dance troupe of the same name, followed by another 216 million possible sites. Speak the word ‘diversity’ in an organisational context and you’re more than likely to have one of two possible psychological ‘hits’ with members of your audience. The first is a passionate belief that it’s a critical issue for everyone and every organisation. Your second, alternative ‘hit’ is a look of utter ennui and cynicism expressed by words such as ‘quotas’ and ‘social engineering’. I think it’s fair to say that the topic of diversity reveals divergent opinions.
So, when one of our clients approached us to run an innovative workshop on diversity, our first reaction was a genuine mixture of angst and apprehension. When that client is Channel 4, a UK broadcaster with something of a track record in diversity (think about the fantastic success of the 2012 Paralympics and the incredible ‘Superhuman’ advert, created for the occasion), then you realise that the bar is set incredibly high. The challenge was simple – create a workshop on diversity that is thought provoking, challenging and is absolutely, definitively, categorically not patronising for our senior managers. It didn’t take long to realise that we needed to design something that embodied the principles of diversity rather than a session that hectored and lectured the audience. Our goal was of course to meet Channel 4’s requirement, but we also wanted to create something that we believed would shift hearts, minds and behaviour. Including our own.
The end result was a day’s workshop that I was proud to be part of. We wove together three incredible speakers to produce the workshop: the irrefutable Baroness Oona King who tackled the theme of creativity and diversity; the irrepressible Chris Lloyd from ‘What on Earth’ publishing who explained in his imitable fashion that diversity is literally essential for life on Earth – and organisations; and, finally, the inspiring Captain Jon White, who told his story of losing both legs and an arm after stepping on a landmine in Afghanistan, but who continues to demonstrate – everyday – that he is unlimited and undefined by that incident. The final part of our workshop involved applying insights and thoughts about diversity in all its complexity to real projects at Channel 4.
Did our workshop shift hearts and minds? The initial feedback would say ‘yes’, but ultimately only time, personal choices and behaviour will tell. Did we nail the topic of diversity completely? Of course not. The minute we stop debating this subject, the very second we cease to grapple with its meaning and application, at the moment that the number of hits on Google is reduced to 1, then we’ve all missed the point. Diversity may be fundamental to any thriving and fair society, but the day the subject is codified, solidified and prescribed, then the essential sense of valuing and respecting difference is lost.
Let Google’s diverse ‘diversity’ hits live on……….