Endava Inclusion Week springs from our ‘we care’ sustainability approach, and – as we are keen to generate greater impact – we are delighted to share some of the insights from one of the masterclasses with Asif Sadiq. Asif is a multi-award-winning expert with a 20-year career in the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) space, having had senior executive roles in a wide range of organisations across the entire globe. He has a proven track record in delivering D&I, Sustainability, and Social Impact programmes, is a thought leader, speaker, author, and influencer, and in 2017, he was honoured with an MBE for his services to the community.
Our session with Asif covered a wide range of topics: from the importance of social mobility and intersectionality when creating inclusion and belonging to how we become more inclusive leaders by finding our personal ‘why’. Let’s review some of our key questions:
Asif, you have been involved in shaping impactful global diversity, equity, and inclusion programmes across organisations that have created a strong sense of belonging for all and resulted in truly diverse workplaces. So, in your view, what does the future of Diversity & Inclusion hold for us? How do we go beyond traditional diversity initiatives?
The last 18 months have showcased that the whole space of D&I has changed: we can no longer look at this area through one lens, as everyone has a unique identity made up of multiple layers. So, the future of diversity is about how to ensure that workplaces create a sense of belonging for the individuals and their unique, authentic identities and how we create environments that allow for these unique identities to come together and produce exceptional results.
When we look at authentic identities, we must acknowledge that no one is defined by one dimension of diversity. Everyone combines several dimensions within themselves, and the intersectionality between them is really important for us to capture in a working context to truly understand what impacts individuals and how this makes a difference. Therefore, we need to redefine our understanding of diversity, as we’ll need to consider numerous elements, such as neurodiversity, age diversity, socio-economic background, and we’ll also need to account for the non-visible characteristics that make up diversity.
There’s currently a lot of talk about the need to prioritise social mobility. How can we build on and drive further social mobility in the workplace?
When we look at social mobility in the workplace, it is really important to create inclusion not just around the systems but to also look at some of the informal advantages that those who have access to opportunity may have. This means that to really encourage social mobility, we need equity within non-formal processes.
Do we encourage people from underrepresented groups or those from a lower socio-economic background? If there is an interview, do we arrange an open day for them to come and see what we are doing, as for some people it might be the first time they’re having access to a big organisation?
How do we challenge what ‘good’ looks like? If someone came from a top university, that would not mean they’re better than people who have not been to the same university.
I believe the challenge is to create systems and processes which tackle some of those biases that have a negative impact on social mobility and to ensure we measure social mobility within our processes.
Within the workplace, allyship is key in supporting diversity and achieving inclusion. What are your thoughts on that?
We need more people to be active allies throughout the year. It takes more than supporting a community during an event, for example wearing a rainbow-coloured lanyard for Pride Month. This is a first step, but allyship needs to go beyond that. We need to make sure that we use our position of privilege to support people in a certain group when they are not in the room, but also to create inroads for that community to have a voice – not replace their voice.
What do you believe are the steps an organisation should take to be truly inclusive in the workplace?
Diversity & Inclusion needs to be weaved into the culture, and it needs to be everyone’s responsibility. Cultural change is one of the biggest things we can do. If we get into a culture of learning and valuing differences, we create an environment that thrives on difference, on the beauty and richness of different ways of thinking and of solving problems, and people will have that sense of belonging.
We also need to acknowledge that the most difficult layer to engage with is the middle layer, so, the people in the organisation who are very busy and have a lot to do. However, to achieve true cultural change, everyone must be a part of that change; it cannot happen just through senior leaders or people who come into the organisation. We need to make D&I business as usual. It cannot be something we only do when we have time; it needs to be weaved into our day-to-day actions and behaviours for it to truly become second nature, rather than something that’s forced or added on.
When we design various initiatives, we need to consider how we can make them more inclusive for everyone. The last thing you want to do is create an environment where there’s a perception that someone’s getting a slice of cake that other employees are not getting – because of D&I.
To bring it down to two key factors: first, it’s important to highlight that becoming inclusive is about long-term sustainable efforts. Second, we need to understand that diversity is not a problem we’re trying to fix – it’s an opportunity we’re trying to embrace.
What does it take for leaders to be more inclusive?
It has become very evident over the past months that people want human leaders. Leaders will need to change their leadership style to be more inclusive, and human-centric leadership is going to be key. We need leaders who are ready to show more vulnerability and to approach situations without all the answers, leaders who are willing to listen and work together to derive the answers. This requires them to act inclusively, listen inclusively and learn inclusively.
What is then needed in an organisation to drive change from a leadership perspective?
The biggest thing is for leaders to find their personal ‘why’ for championing D&I. We cannot just replicate the company’s ‘why’. We all need to find a reason for ourselves around why it is important to us. Our ‘why’ does not need to be the biggest diversity example; instead, it should be unique to our own personal drive. For example, it could be that you want to create more equity within your team.
Once we find our personal ‘why’, it becomes easier to champion it from a personal perspective and really have that commitment around the topic. Finding our ‘why’ around D&I is important for any leader, any individual. We all need to discover our own ‘why’ and then use it to build on what the company is doing to advance change in this space.
Finally, what do you think are some of the important inclusion considerations as we move into a hybrid work model?
The future of work means we need to cater for the diversity in people’s lives, experiences, and needs. What will be important in a hybrid working environment is how we continue to build inclusion in the workplace, so we don’t go back to a scenario in which people in the office are the ones who are more included and the people who are working virtually more often are not included. This will require us to be consciously inclusive of those who are working remotely or just might not be in the office every day.
By being consciously inclusive, we can continue to build on some of the great things that we’ve achieved during this long period of working remotely. How about still having some virtual meetings? So, even if you are in the office, you join virtually from your desk. The aim is to continue to build on the great inclusion that we created virtually.
This change will not happen naturally in a hybrid working environment. We must acknowledge that there is a risk of reverting to the way things were, and then certain groups would be disadvantaged. Unfortunately, statistics are showing that the groups at risk of being disadvantaged are precisely the groups that were also disadvantaged prior to the current working arrangements: it will most likely impact parents, particularly women, who usually have other commitments and things they try to manage besides work.
As we have been working from home for so long, this transition into the hybrid model will be different for each of us. So, we’ll need to consider how line managers can ensure they are supporting staff in this transition – if we continue with the same 9-to-5 business hours, or if we will work smarter in different ways to achieve our desired outcomes. We also need to be proactive and talk about mental health and add gentle reminders to have a balanced lifestyle. Now is a golden opportunity to go back into the workplace and change things – it’s the best time to do it.