Diversity in the Corporate World

Ricardo Sales, one of Brazil's most prominent diversity specialists, talks to FULLCOVER about the challenges companies face and successes they achieve in their fight against prejudice and battle for inclusion.

Companies with diversity policies are more innovative and successful’.Many statements like this now grace magazine covers and are used in varying communication vehicles.
Supported by behavioural and market research, this theme goes beyond the news and into workshops, conferences and gatherings such as the RD Summit digital marketing event in Fortaleza, north east Brazil on 8-10 November 2018. On one of the panels, which advocated female leadership, entrepreneur and founder of the Black Money movement, Nina Silva, made some hard-hitting statements: "Companies need equity as one of their founding principles... We are not the same... understand that and be happy. We will only have equal opportunity when we have an equal environment.”
Although there’s a current surge of attention on the topic, the definition of diversity and the debate around it are long-standing and more complex.
Taking a macro view, early public discussions on the subject date back to the 1960s and 1970s, when protestors took to the streets. From its birth in the United States, the movement for diversity gained traction in Brazil with the Movimento dos Direitos Civis Afro-Americanos no Brasil (Movement for African-American Civil Rights in Brazil) and in the mid-1990s, demonstrations prompted social pluralism discussions.
Diversity gives a workplace distinction. In his article ‘Nine trends in diversity and inclusion’1 Ricardo Sales, founder of the Mais Diversidade consultancy and a research fellow at the University of São
Paulo, associates the term with demographic representation. The word inclusion means taking a step further, it ’guarantees people with different profiles in companies will have the same opportunities for development and promotion’. But why is it that certain groups which, until recently were perceived as marginalized, have now gained the attention of the corporate world?
Social and financial value The Diversity Matters report2, published in 2015 by McKinsey & Company, is one of the most popular studies on the positive effects of diversity policies, particularly financial benefits. According to the survey, companies that employ a mix of races and ethnic groups are 35% more likely to achieve above-average returns. Likewise, more gender-diverse corporations tend to perform 15% above their sector average. These findings mention profit, persuading even the most sceptical and inflexible on the power of changing dynamics in the corporate world. "Companies can't ignore this any longer. They're losing money,” Nina adds. Although capital can be a strong motivator to put companies on the path to diversity, the topic uncovers a few issues deeply connected with day-to-day workplace dynamics. Innovation, engagement and competitiveness are but a few. Ricardo explains: "Innovation because groups with different perspectives, 
training, genders, races and sexual orientations tend to have alternative views on the environment in which they work and, therefore bring fresher, more innovative ideas. "Engagement, in turn, is about giving employees the opportunity to be who they are, being their true selves at work.” He concludes: "When a work ecosystem is inclusive, people tend to produce more, do better and feel happier. Competitiveness comes as an indirect consequence of their participation.” Another factor pushing diversity from an ideal to the real world is social change: "New generations entering the labour market bring new expectations about companies and, in parallel, employers have come to realise business cannot operate separately from their social environment. These two worlds coexist and interact,” says Ricardo. "This interaction has shown organisations they need to align themselves to society's demands; acceptance, freedom and pluralism among them,” he adds.

Deep-seated conservatism
Typically, initiatives to recruit diverse profiles are still competing against traditional, time-honoured ideals. Sometimes a conservative attitude isn't part of the company ethos, instead it comes from social pressure – in the area it operates within. "The community could be responsible for bringing backwards ideas into corporations,” Ricardo explains.
Brazil is a nation founded on more traditional viewpoints and is not that open to new social perspectives. According to research from the Ipsos institute, published on 25 June 2018, and then picked
up by the newspaper, O Povo, the country ranks 15th in its acceptance of diversity, behind all Latin-American nations.
It reports ‘Brazilian society faces specific difficulties handling these matters because Brazilians, as a people, reject conflict and, among other traits, they have this tendency to deny the existence of prejudice’.
Ricardo continues: "We’ve nurtured this idea about ourselves that we’re already diverse and inclusive. Now we have the chance to rethink and make it happen.” This statement, fieldwork, academic research and official reports, causes Ricardo to ponder how Brazil’s moved forward: "Over the past five years, we’ve seen encouraging growth in the number of discussions on this topic and now  magazines, school curricula and even legislative bodies devote more time to it. We've learnt more and developed bolder policies around gender and disability, even if they do only cover what Brazilian society finds more palatable.” Although Brazil fails to lead the global conversation on gender, race, sexual orientation or nationality, it is ahead in advertising. According to data from a Shutterstock/Censuswide partner study, ads produced in the country try hardest to represent diversity in their campaigns. The PropMark portal3 says the study shows this effort has prompted positive feedback from the international advertising market. For example, 32% of sector professionals say they already understand the importance of representing disabled people in their work. A high percentage when compared to figures from the United Kingdom (25%), United States of America (20%), Australia (18%) and Germany (13%).

Diversity: how companies can turn strategies into action
Although it’s possible to try and build a diverse and well-structured culture within an organisation, processes have yet to be fully identified and rolled out. Often, many of the measures companies put in place stem from isolated initiatives that lose sustainability in the long term or priority over managerial, financial and political issues. Recognising this failing, Ricardo refers to the study mentioned above, highlighting the difference between a slight interest in the matter and having the resolve to work it through it: "An affinity for the topic is important, but not enough.
"Professionals in this area should be prepared to handle the various problems that arise, but they also need to learn more about the subject, connect with the people involved in the issues and listen to their stories,” Ricardo says. Perhaps such formal structures, although efficient, aren't viable in small to medium-sized companies, or more specific segmented lines of business. This doesn't mean other, equally effective, actions cannot be taken:

1. Plan before you act. Because it currently enjoys attention, diversity can be seen as a bandwagon to jump on straight away. Ricardo confirms: "If you asked me about the biggest mistake organisations make regarding diversity, I'd say it is an over eagerness to plan the tactics – interventions, events, isolated initiatives – without the underlying strategic planning.
Before skipping steps, it‘s vital companies can clearly answer such questions as, Why am I talking about this? How do I view this topic? What issues am I going to address? What are my short and medium-term goals? What are my KPIs and metrics to measure progress? Who are my strategic partners? Who are the key stakeholders?”

2. Recognize and combat prejudice.
Whenever prejudice is discussed, it typically raises the idea of unconscious bias. "Biases are patterns established in our childhood and they determine the way we act, react, judge, interpret and communicate with people. So we work with stereotypes and have preconceived notions about groups of people or activities that might influence our decision-making processes.
Following these strict ideas and patterns could cause us to make highly biased decisions,” Ricardo explains. However, not everything is unconscious bias. "That said, in order to fight our biases,
we should separate them from conscious judgment and prevent them becoming actual discrimination,” he affirms.

3. Top-down vs bottom-up.
Companies also face a challenge when sharing their initiatives with offices in other regions, factories and the rest of their value chain (customers, investors, partners and other groups). Part of this challenge lies in the idea that diversity is something implemented from the top down. Ricardo argues: "Diversity does need support from the top, but bottom-up initiatives help decentralise the process, reinforcing calls from top management, enabling inclusive discussions to filter up. Employees have a right to engage with their wider corporate community and they should routinely share social and business information, plus success stories.”

4. Consistency and staying power.
Policies, benefits and processes deliver greater value and more sustainable benefits when diversity is a key focus at the outset. "You cannot achieve tangible diversity & inclusion results in six months. To ensure actual inclusion, the process should be monitored and data collected/measured on a yearly basis. A focus on diversity matters – it ensures those in marginalized or multicultural groups are not prevented from joining an organisation or progressing their careers,” Ricardo opines.

5. Respect is a given.
No matter what the business, respect is crucial to an inclusive strategy. "Can you even argue against this?” Ricardo adds. More important than any disagreement, ideological or cultural difference, the term encourages acceptance and coexistence, inviting different communities to live in a harmonious, tolerant manner.

1. Available at www.aberje.com.br/blogs/post/nove-tendencias-em-diversidade-e-inclusao
2. Available at www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters/pt-br
3. Available at www.propmark.com.br/mercado/brasil-puxa-a-fila-das-campanhas-com-diversidade-no-cenario-global

Ricardo Sales
Is a communication and diversity consultant and a research fellow at the University of São Paulo School of Arts and Communication, where he earned his BA, his MA and now reads for a doctorate
on diversity policies in organisations.
Ricardo has studied the topic since 2005 and is recognised as one of Brazil’s top specialists on the subject.

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