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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

Inclusion – the permanent campaign, where all of us are the campaigners

This article was originally prepared for Pfizer. Pfizer has kindly agreed to its wider publication.

2020 was a year when inclusion raced to the top of the agendas of companies and firms across the world. The impact of a global pandemic and the global events following the killing of George Floyd have both acted as catalysts for what was already the growing realisation across the business world that inclusion is both a critical value and an economic imperative. This realisation is coupled with an increasing expectation from both employees and customers that companies should commit to delivering inclusion.

Inclusion is more than a set of rules: it is a major social change in how we approach our lives and work. Delivering such a social change requires us to see it as a campaign. Inclusion is not inevitable or even sustainable simply by people wanting it to happen. If we believe in inclusion, we need to be prepared to campaign for it, champion it and defend it. Inclusion will not be achieved by refraining from doing things that prevent it. We need to become active advocates.

Our firms are filled with people who would never consider discrimination acceptable. However, passive non-discrimination is not part of the solution. If we are not prepared to demonstrate and promote our values, then people will presume we do not have them. Whether we are aware of that or not, how we engage with each other, select our teams and show leadership all signal the type of culture we want to cultivate, work in and live in.

We also need to understand that the campaign and our commitment to it needs to be permanent. While inclusion is the goal, there is no finish line: there is no day where we will be able to say all our work is done. That is because inclusion is a living, constantly changing value. The issues we consider today as part of realising an inclusive workplace and society are not the same issues we would have considered a generation ago. That constant changing must be met with a constant commitment to campaign for inclusion.

Of course, management has a critical role to play. Inclusion requires a permanent rolling analysis of our structures, policies, procedures and outcomes to ensure they are helping (and not preventing) us from being truly meritocratic. We need to examine how we can use reforms to identify, understand and remove the barriers that prevent us achieving that for all our people.

Yet metrics, policies and structures will never be able to deliver inclusion by themselves. Inclusion is not a set of guidelines we read in the elevator: inclusion is a culture, it is how we work together every day. Inclusion requires all of us because it is about each of us; it is not about some other group of people. We really begin to deliver inclusion when we see inclusion not as a "what" but as a "who". The single greatest reason in the world today why someone becomes an advocate for inclusion is when they know someone from a different experience. Knowing how transformational that is allows us to design effective campaigns.

If inclusion is for all of us, then we must design campaigns that people want to join, that allow people to see and hear from each other and become active advocates. All too often the world outside our buildings and indeed the corporate world do not lend themselves to making that space. People worry that if they engage and get the language wrong they will end up being seen as disrespectful. We could see this during the events that followed the killing of George Floyd. People who wanted to reach out to someone on their team or in their firm to see how they were feeling generally did not – not because they didn't care, but because they did not feel confident they would say the right thing or feared that they might accidentally offend. People felt they had to become experts before they could become advocates. That journey is the wrong way around and we must work to reverse it. A campaign that people fear joining is doomed to failure. In a world where we are consciously or unconsciously biased and where society reflects that bias all the time, we will make mistakes.

Let me put it to you this way. During the Irish referendum on marriage equality for LGBT+ people, a woman in her 80s came to a door to talk to people who were canvassing for a yes vote. She said "of course I am going to vote yes – it is not your fault the way you are". That is a pretty politically incorrect phrase and yet a supportive one at the same time. This woman, who had spent eight decades absorbing the institutional and cultural language of homophobia from every corner of society, had become an advocate. Getting her to untangle the decades of incorrect language she had learned will take another few decades. Do we wait for that to happen, or do we welcome her into the journey to inclusion straight away? Do we create a culture that makes the journey possible?

We can remove these barriers and allow people to join campaigns that raise awareness, build capacity and confidence in each of us, and inspire and empower us. We need to move past a focus on unconscious bias to one of conscious advocacy.

The good news is there are so many initiatives that can help create the space for people to learn from each other. From reverse mentoring, lunch-and-learns, building strong affinity groups, through to running ethnicity-themed book clubs and LGBT+ movie lunches, we can develop spaces where people can talk, learn and enjoy doing so. We can create these spaces within our own corporate cultures to allow people to see that the real expertise required by each of us is empathy and kindness, and to understand how essential it is that we actively demonstrate these qualities.

Each of us is the most effective ambassador for our values in our own spaces. Welcome to campaigning.