Diversity and inclusion: A CSR or business need?

Saturday, 16 July 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Deputy British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Mark Gooding addressed a business forum at the British High Commission for Colombo Pride. The theme of the forum was ‘Diversity and Inclusion: a CSR or Business Need?’ Following is his address:

I’m delighted to be speaking here tonight on behalf of the British High Commission and the UK Foreign Office. As I am a representative of Government, you may think my perspective on diversity and inclusion will be somewhat different to that of a business representative.


It’s true that being a public body, the High Commission have two distinct obligations. First, we have a duty to promote equality of opportunity and community cohesion and to eliminate discrimination and harassment. And second, as an organisation that represents the UK around the world, we have to ensure that our workforce is itself representative of modern British society.

But fundamentally, our interest in promoting diversity and inclusion is the same as it is for business.

What is diversity and inclusion?

Let me start by explaining what we mean by diversity and inclusion in the Foreign Office.

By ‘diversity,’ we mean difference in its widest sense: for example different ways of thinking and working, as well as, other perspectives such as gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, belief, disability, ethnicity, social or educational background.

And by ‘inclusion,’ we mean creating a working environment that addresses discrimination, promotes equality of opportunity and allows difference to flourish, so that all staff feel valued and able to realise their full potential.

This is about valuing difference. It’s about fairness and respect for all. It is about creating a working environment where all our staff, regardless of background or walk of life can contribute and where harnessing different views, ways of working and thinking is used in order to make better policy, increase performance and productivity.

This is not about tokenism, favouritism or lowering the bar. And it’s not just about tolerating something we don’t like or understand.

Why promote diversity and inclusion?

So that’s what I mean when I refer to diversity and inclusion. But why does diversity and inclusion make business sense? In the UK, there is widespread consensus about the benefits of effective diversity management for an organisation. These apply as much to a business as to Government.

I would highlight four main benefits.

1. First, promoting diversity boosts business performance. There is increasing consensus in Europe that individual differences are essential ingredients for high productivity, creativity, innovation and competitive advantage.

People perform better when they can be themselves and share their individuality for the benefit of an organisation that is committed to their wellbeing.

Let me give you some examples. McKinsey researched the top performing European companies in 2007 and found that those with the highest level of gender diversity in top level posts outperformed their sector in terms of investment returns.

Research by Stonewall in the UK has clearly found a direct correlation between workplace climate and productivity.

Another example is that absence levels tend to decrease significantly – on average by 20% - when an organisation accommodates differences, for example through flexible working.

2. Second, promoting diversity helps deliver effective recruitment and retention. In a competitive global economy, all of our organisations need to recruit and retain the best staff. An organisation that only recruits from certain groups or demographics of individuals – whether intentionally or not - will self-evidently be recruiting from a limited recruitment pool.

Let me put this in numbers. An estimated 22% of the UK population have a long-term disability. Around 6% of the population are gay, lesbian or bisexual. 7.5% are another religion other than Christian; 8% are ethnic minorities. And, as you might expect, about 50% of the population is female. Any organisation that does not recruit from these groups will obviously miss out on key skills, experience, and ideas.

Equally, if an individual feels that their organisation values them, is committed to their welfare, and prepared to be flexible to accommodate their needs, then clearly that individual is more likely to stay working in that organisation. So the organisation retains the experience and skills of that person, and saves the additional costs of recruitment and lost productivity that it would incur if the individual left.

3. Recruitment and retention are closely linked to the third reason that organisations need to promote diversity and inclusion, which is reputation. Clearly, a reputation that discourages applicants and creates negative staff experiences will damage an organisation’s ability to recruit and retain staff.

But reputation goes far wider than that. Customers and clients increasingly consider the reputation of organisations when they are purchasing goods or making new partnerships. In a globalised and interconnected world, international companies will increasingly be looking at the reputation of their partners overseas when they make business decisions.

Allegations about poor practices or conduct by an international partner company can cause damage to a company’s reputation at home. So customers ask more and more how goods were sourced, and how international companies treat their employees. My prediction is that in the future, an organisation’s track record on diversity and inclusion will increasingly come into consideration when international companies are choosing their partners.

4. This leads on to my fourth, and final, point. In the UK, action on diversity and inclusion is enshrined in law, making respect for diversity a legal necessity in the UK.

The UK is a world leader in legislation to protect individuals from discrimination. Most recently, the UK Parliament passed the Equality Act in 2010, which brings together previous equality legislation in one act. It requires equal treatment in access to employment, as well as in access to public and private services.

Hence, for example, a business no longer has the right to turn away customers on account of their religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or any other reason. This has already been put into practice. In a recent case, the owners of a bed and breakfast were successfully sued by a same sex couple whom they’d turned away because of their sexuality.

Best practice in diversity policy

For all of these reasons, diversity and inclusion makes sense for Government, just as it makes sense for business.

What it means for our organisations individually will be different for all of us. But I would like to conclude by highlighting three important steps that we take in the Foreign Office that I believe demonstrate best practice in implementing diversity policy.

First, have a clear policy. Set out clearly the values that you expect as an organisation, and take a zero tolerance approach to those who do not act according to these values. Awareness raising and training for all staff is a key part in delivering this.

Second, monitor diversity, and act on what you find. We routinely monitor the diversity of our workforce, including gender, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. This data is essential in informing us as to whether we are recruiting and retaining staff from different backgrounds, as well as whether there are obstacles to progression for any groups.

Third, mainstream your diversity policy. Diversity and inclusion is not something that can be implemented by a group of people in the Human Resources Department. It is the responsibility of all members of staff. Hence in the Foreign Office, all staff have a personal objective on corporate issues, which many use for diversity work. And the Foreign Office actively participates in diversity-themed events, such as this, and in national diversity indexing schemes to rate organisations according to their diversity policies. In fact, the Foreign Office came 16th in last year’s Stonewall Equality Index, which rates diversity in leading organisations.


In conclusion, I hope it’s obvious that for us, respect for diversity is a central value of the British Government that is enshrined in many of the activities we support. It is also a central pillar of the organisational identity of the UK Foreign Office. As we see it, diversity is not just a value. In a globalised world, it is a reality. Our success depends on it.