Diversity, inclusion, and integrity aren’t just buzzwords; they are critical instruments for building a better, more sustainable business. They are also powerful recruiting tools - talented people want to work in a company that values them and cherishes their differences.

In a people-centric business, this can be a powerful competitive advantage.

So how exactly do you build a culture of diversity in your agency? How do you practice inclusion across your organization?

The Value of Diversity

The agency business is essentially a people business. Your competitive advantage isn’t your supply chain or your technology; it’s the kind of people you can attract and retain.

It stands to reason that in a people-centric business, the more diverse people you can attract, the higher your impact.

This is borne true by research. A McKinsey report titled Why Diversity Matters found that companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile.

Another study by Catalyst found that companies with the most women board of directors outperformed those with the least by 26% on Return on Invested Capital (ROIC).

Beyond financial results, diversity has a decided impact on innovation - provided you make your people feel included regardless of their backgrounds. A Deloitte study found that:

“When employees think their organization is committed to, and supportive of diversity and they feel included, employees report better business performance in terms of ability to innovate, (83% uplift), responsiveness to changing customer needs (31% uplift) and team collaboration (42% uplift).”

Qualitatively speaking, a more diverse team is better at fusing ideas from multiple perspectives - the root of all creativity. A paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin concluded that:

“Multicultural learning experience: (a) facilitates idea flexibility (e.g., the ability to solve problems in multiple ways), (b) increases awareness of underlying connections and associations, and (c) helps overcome functional fixedness... functional learning in a multicultural context is particularly important for facilitating creativity.”

Ergo, diversity and inclusion make your business better at innovative thinking, creativity, and collaboration - critical skills for agencies.

Beware of diversity training

Echoing the above sentiment, a common strategy for businesses to implement diversity is to offer mandatory diversity training.

Yet, the data suggests that such programs offer little to no long-term benefits. A study of the % change in representation over 5 years among managers showed that diversity training had a net negative effect:

Make diversity a core part of your leadership

If there’s one thing most experts agree with, it’s this: for diversity programs to work, leaders need to show commitment to diversity.

Writing in Management Today, Stanford GSB professor Brian Lowery says:

“Failures of diversity are fundamentally failures of leadership - specifically, a failure to understand both what really constitutes good leadership and how leadership sets the tone for how effectively challenges around diversity are handled within an organisation.”

An HBR survey of 24 CEOs who’ve had success with diversity initiatives shows that successful diversity programs have leadership buy-in. As HBR quotes,

“The CEOs we spoke with did not see diversity as a once-and-done initiative, nor did they hand off the responsibility for it to others. Rather, each of the 24, in his or her own way, approached inclusivity as a personal mission.”

For most of these CEOs, diversity was not only a business imperative but a moral one as well. They led diversity initiatives because many of them were from diverse backgrounds themselves and thus, were familiar with the effects of discrimination.

As Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard says:

“My passion for diversity comes from the fact that I myself am diverse. There have been a hundred times when I have felt different from other people in the room or in the business”.

Which is to say, the more diverse your leadership, the more your business will be comfortable with diversity. If your senior executives are all from the same background, it is possible that they might unintentionally overlook the importance of diversity.

Therefore, when initiating diversity programs, start from the top. Get leaders to fully commit to diversity. Only then will the rest of the organization follow.

 

Diversity without inclusion is useless

Diversity, by itself, simply means equal representation. But if equal representation isn’t followed by equal inclusion, you won’t bear the fruits of diversity.

As Hugo Balta writes, “diversity without inclusion is only skin deep”.

Inclusion is essentially active involvement. It means getting people to engage deeply with problems and to listen to their concerns. It also means promoting authenticity - getting people to express, not suppress their unique cultures.

 

According to the Center for Talent Innovation, there are six behaviors that unlock innovation:

  • Ensuring that everyone is heard.

  • Making it safe to propose novel ideas.

  • Giving team members decision-making authority.

  • Sharing credit for success.

  • Giving actionable feedback.

  • Implementing feedback from the team. 

When team leaders have at least three of the above behavioral traits, 87% of diverse team members say that they feel included in their team. 87% also say that they feel free to express their views and opinions.

Don’t just focus on diversity; focus on inclusion as well.