From Emma Watson to Patricia Arquette, the recent diversity debate has some high-profile champions. Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela (among many admirable others), they are using their public platforms to spread the message that our differences make us stronger. Millions watch their YouTube videos, millions chat about it over the dinner table, in the pub or in the work canteen, and millions go to bed pondering how they too might be able to make that difference.
Then, those millions wake up every morning and many don’t change a thing.
It is one thing being enthused by something someone has said, but unless you make a change in your behaviours (that affects others), your influence on the world will be close to zero. This is where the naysayers’ argument lies – people are basically only interested in what directly affects their own lives, and why should they change their behaviours for something that doesn’t affect them.
Well, it does affect you, and it can make a massive difference to your world.
How many of you have truly put yourselves in someone else’s shoes recently? You might have a gay friend who is afraid to “come out” at work, laughing and joking with all the boys about which girl they fancy in the office. You might have a colleague who gets constant abuse on their walk home because of the colour of their skin. Another colleague may get quieter and quieter because her opinions are not being taken seriously enough.
You might know these people, but you don’t want to know their problems.
It is valuable to fuel the diversity debate by listening to and sharing opinions on diversity, but the real impact will come when everyone starts to take an interest on a personal level. Have a chat to your colleague - find out how he feels to be abused because of his colour. Tell his story to your friends in the pub, not Emma Watson’s story. They might tell their friends. One of their friends might be one of the “abusers.” That is how true influence happens. It is not only about lofty ideals, it is not only about the opinions of public figures – they begin the debate, but change rarely happens without individual action.
The world is waiting for your action. You need to make “their” problems “your” problems. Why? Because your world will be all the richer for it.
The time of living in a “middle-class, white, male, straight, young” business world is over. If you open your eyes to the experiences and perspectives of people from other backgrounds, you will simply understand the world that little bit better. Everyone is different, but when you can appreciate the differences, you are in a stronger position to make better decisions, forge closer relationships and become part of the solution rather than the problem.
LMA recently hosted a Diversity event with the Lord Mayor of the City of London and over 150 HR attendees. I would like to think that each individual went back to work with a renewed determination to make a difference.
However, the Lord Mayor won’t do it for them, nor will Emma Watson. There is no magic wand (forgive the Harry Potter reference)– diversity is all about a simple decision:
Care or not care.