The Future of Inclusion and Diversity in Business – SHOW NOTES FROM FUTURIZED #23

Intro (00:00:00):
Futurized goes beneath the trends to track the underlying forces of disruption in tech policy, business models, social dynamics, and the environment. I’m your host, Trond Arne Undheim, futurist and author. In episode 23 of the podcast, the topic is the future of inclusion and diversity in business. Our guests are Alison Maitland and Rebekah Steele authors of indivisible radically rethinking inclusion for sustainable business results. We talk about why both inclusion and diversity separately, and together matter to the bottom line. We discuss the sensitive aspects of white male earned privilege and how even disadvantaged groups might be privileged in some other way, which entails we are all on a journey. We discuss why these issues are soaring now compared to a decade ago, what approaches deliver results that matter what the metrics are and where do we go from here?

Trond Arne Undheim (00:01:07):
Alison and Rebecca, how are you guys doing?

Alison Maitland (00:01:11):
Very good. Thank you. Great to be with you.

Rebekah Steele (00:01:14):
Yes. Delighted to have this conversation today.


Alison Maitland is a writer, speaker, adviser and coach. Specializing in leadership, inclusion and the changing world of work, she has co-authored two previous books, Future Work and Why Women Mean Business.  A former long-serving journalist with the Financial Times, she is a Senior Fellow in Human Capital at The Conference Board and a Senior Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School, London. She is Chair of the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme Executive Board and has served as Vice Chair of the International Women’s Forum UK. She was Director of The Conference Board’s European Council for Diversity and Inclusion in Business for nine years.

Rebekah Steele is a business strategist, innovator and speaker with deep expertise in Diversity and Inclusion. Building on two decades in the corporate world, including as a senior leader in Fortune 500 companies, Rebekah launched her consultancy focused on the intersection of diversity, inclusion and human-centered design thinking. She helps leaders in business, government and non-profit organizations bring progressive strategies to life via her signature D&I innovation labs and distinctive ecosystem design process. Canada-based and globally engaged, Rebekah speaks widely on next generation D&I and is also a Senior Fellow and Council Director with The Conference Board.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:01:18):
Yes. So am I, so I, I want to start first with you, Alison. So you’re a writer, speaker and an advisor and a coach. And of course, both of you have just published a book that we’ll talk about, but you’ve had a career as a journalist at the Financial Times and other things you’ve been at the Cass business school and I’ve also been involved with the Conference Board. So a lot of experience here. Alison, I always ask my guests, you know, out of everything you’ve done in your life, what has inspired you the most and continues to inspire you the most?

Indivisible by Alison Maitland and Rebekah Steele

Alison Maitland (00:01:52):
That’s such a great question. It’s really also a very difficult question. Cause I’m, I’m a sort of passionate lifelong learner.

Alison Maitland (00:01:59):
So I like to see every experiences as a learning experience, but I think there were several, several things that were really stand up for me being at university and having the opportunity to move from doing a languages degree, to doing a degree in social and political sciences is an extraordinary way to sort of, I have my eyes opened up to, to the world, to a world of ideas. And it was also a time of massive social and political change. So there were lots of things going on on a part I own women’s liberation. It was very exciting time. I’d I do remember one particular teacher or tutor that I had who taught me something incredibly important for the rest of my writing and communicating career, which was about communicating really clearly. He basically, I had written an essay. I took it along to him, very pleased with it. And he said, do you really understand everything that you’ve written in here?

Alison Maitland (00:03:00):
What does this sentence mean? And I sort of looked at it and I thought, I don’t really know. You shouldn’t ever write down something that you don’t understand fully yourself. You should always write it in words that you understand. And that was a fantastic learning opportunity. Learning for me. I think there’d be many hours.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:03:22):
That’s great. That’s a, that’s a great, great learning to kick us off. Thank you. Very inspiring, Rebecca. You know, you are a business strategist. I, I know from your background, you have worked in inclusion in, in corporate fortune 500 companies. You’re now very active in consulting. You’re Canada based. So you know, comparing that a little bit with you know, with Alison who’s, a UK London, London based, what about your, your background? What is it in your background that you would say has, has inspired you now going forward?

Speaker 3 (00:03:54):
Oh, I think it’s a really, as Alison said, a really difficult question to answer. But I have just been thinking about, you know, how much learning has come from different work experiences and how they contrast. I had an early career experience at, at a company called allied signal, which later merged with Honeywell. And it was really inspiring there to see that whole system transformation could be an effective way to make lasting change. And also to have an opportunity to start to see the limits, not just in that organization, but in organizations around the world of what we’re being called best practices. But if you took a critical lens to diversity and inclusion, best practices, we really started to see that they couldn’t possibly be best practices because they weren’t delivering the results that people needed. And then how much that contrasted with an experience I had at Blackberry at the time that it was named the fastest growing company in the world, it had this really interesting mix of constraints and enablers that pushed me to be really radically innovative, but the approaches I took for diversity and inclusion and to get me closer to things like user experience and design thinking and innovation, and think about how all of those things could help us find better ways to do this work, to get results that matter.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:05:19):
Well, one of the reasons I’m asking you, this is fascinating. One of the reasons I’m asking you these questions is that, you know, it strikes me that it’s, it takes a special person to write a great book about inclusion on diversity. It’s not something that everybody can do. So so here’s one more question to unpack that a little bit, Alison, a unique thing that few people know about you, you, you shared with me, you actually grew up or spent parts of your childhood in the middle East. Give me just a tiny little bit of sense of what that has done to, to kind of your take on, on reality.

Alison Maitland (00:05:50):
Yeah. well I grew up in a diplomatic family, so we moved around, my father was never based and we around to different different countries in the middle East during my childhood sort of interspersed with periods in the UK it gave me first of all, an early, you know, real sort of rich experience of other cultures and other languages and being so young and so impressionable, I think that, you know, just that just stayed with me, stayed with me all my life. I think the other really sort of important part of it was, I didn’t know this at the time was just the experience, looking back on it, being an outsider of being different in a culture where I was, where I was different, where we stood out, we stood out, we didn’t fit in necessarily. And I think that you know, a lasting impact on me as well too, to have had that experience and perhaps to have more empathy as a result with people who, who are outsiders

Rebekah Steele (00:06:54):
Interesting, Rebecca, you have, I grew up in a small town with turkeys and cows, but there was something also in your background that you’ve been telling me about that’s made you as a family stand out a little bit. Tell us just a little bit about that before we get to our, to our main topic.

Rebekah Steele (00:07:10):
Sure, sure. I mean, in many ways it really contrast with Allison’s story that I grew up in this very small, very homogenous town. You know, we’re talking hundreds of people, not thousands and way more turkeys and cows than people, as you said, and talk of diversity was more around things like, you know, get Holsteins or Jersey cows produce the best milk. But fortunately my world wasn’t as small as that town was because my family were very interested, curious learners, readers. My mom had this big operatic voice and we would go each to her performances and to other musical and arts performances. My grandfather was an oil painter. So he was always taking us to museums across different cities. My sister was really interested in science and math and languages, and she was a great teacher and sort of pulled me along and, you know, just growing up in kind of a community, a family community of people that took a stand for other people particularly to try to help them reach their full potential. So I think all those things do kind of come together and my lens for this work.

THE Business of inclusion

Trond Arne Undheim (00:08:15):
Wow. Well, we’re going to jump into it right now. You have just written a book called invisible it’s I think getting pretty raving reviews in, in various publications. And I wanted to just start off with this little quote that you had in there. Inclusion does not live in a silo. What does that mean?

Rebekah Steele (00:08:34):
Yeah. well when inclusion is indivisible from the way a whole organization works it’s treated as essential for organizations to be able to be successful with their goals and their purpose. And the benefits can be really tremendous, but unfortunately inclusion is more often positioned as this sort of initiatives.

Rebekah Steele (00:08:56):
It’s a silo apart from what’s core to business priorities or to an organization’s mission and really separate from how it works every day and that really restricts inclusion and the value that it can create. So, you know, what we’re talking about in the book is that inclusion really cannot live in a silo. It has to be, indivisibly integrated into the heart of a business and then inclusion can really flourish because it’s permeating throughout the whole environment. It enables everyone to be successful without leaving anyone out. And it has a positive impact on real, tangible things like, you know, whether or not people want to work for a company and how productive they are in an organization, the quality of things like decision making and customer interactions for this to innovation and profit and reputation. So rethinking inclusion as a side dish and really mixing it into the main course delivers value.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:09:52):
That makes a lot of sense. So Alison does that, how does it, did it end up in a silo? Was that just because it was kind of a mandated initiative or it was just social pressure and then, you know, you, you had to create a business function for it and you had to write a report on it and that’s why it ended up as a silo or was there something else that puts it in this corner?

Alison Maitland (00:10:12):
Well, part of that, part of that is really to do with the sort of piecemeal approaches that we see in organizations. And but you know, so, so actually looking at, and maybe also getting confused between diversity and inclusion. So we, we make a clear distinction between diverse individually because they are different things they’re complimentary. But, and, and there, you absolutely have to have both of them. But diversity is really about, you know, the rich mix of people that we are of perspectives or of backgrounds, the things that you’ve been asking us about just an hour actually, of cultures and so on, but that are present in the dura reality in, in society. And also in, in workplaces, although not necessarily at the very top of workplaces, the higher you go and inclusion is, is about actually.

Alison Maitland (00:11:10):
So, so we, we see diversity, not as a problem, which is offered, you know, often that’s seen as a problem to be solved by organizations. We say, no, it’s actually an opportunity to be grasped. And inclusion is, is grasping that opportunity or of diversity. It’s, it’s about creating a fertile ground for everybody to, to flourish in for everyone to be able to reach their full potential for everyone to be able to create to, to create and contribute to their full potential. And therefore for organizations really to get the full value out of the people who work for them. And indeed the people that they are connected to their stakeholders, their partners, and someone externally as well. So inclusion has often been seen as the poor relation, or is it indeed in being confused with diversity? When people talk about having an inclusive culture or something like that, companies are often referring actually to diversity numbers at the top, you know, the ratio of men and women in leadership. For example, they’re not actually talking about inclusion and that’s why we really focused on inclusion in this book, because it is often the poor relation without inclusion, diversity remains unfulfilled potential.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:12:29):
So is inclusion. Then basically the fairness principle that can lead to diversity. Is that what you’re saying,

Rebekah Steele (00:12:36):
Rebecca? I think it’s more dynamic than that. Is diversity is kind of a reality of, you know, a full mix of people on all the dimensions that that make them who they are. And inclusion is, you know, how we create the kind of environments that can make the most of that. And you really, you can’t very well have one without the other, in terms of ways that create value.

Cognitive diversity

Trond Arne Undheim (00:13:01):
Got it. But so another principle, but I don’t think you really use this term, but it’s a term that has come up you know, in various contexts, I wanted you guys to comment on this. So cognitive diversity has become a little bit discussed, but I think still quite misunderstood in terms of what it’s trying to achieve. I think the idea here needs to be unpacked a little bit. What w what is this term of cognitive diversity? What could it potentially contribute? I know you guys write something similar because you talk about overlapping identities that come together to create a person’s experience. And, and you say every person is more than a single identity, so you’re onto the identity part of it. But cognitive diversity, I think also is pointing to an openness of perspective, but also a depth of perspective that’s, you know, is needed in organizations. How do you understand this term?

Alison Maitland (00:13:56):
So cognitive diversity well is when we talk a lot about it actually in the book, well, we don’t necessarily use that term. We talk about the importance of people being able to to argue, to argue with the mainstream ideas to to express dissenting opinions or different opinions and how important that is for innovation. So cognitive diversity is really about the differences in the ways that people think about things, the way that they see things so different perspectives, but it is important. It’s very important. And so is identity diversity. So all demographic diversity, they are both, they’re both crucial actually. And both of them, you know, really boost innovation and the bottom line, but so there’s, there’s a lot of evidence of that from research. For example, the research of the late term, Katherine Phillips, who was a business school professor who did a lot of research into diverse groups and how how they, because they come together and they, they actually look diverse.

Alison Maitland (00:15:05):
They expect more differences in the opinions and the perspectives and solutions that are going to come forward. So they are actually more open to different ideas. They work harder to get to those new and innovative solutions. They share information better. So, so there’s a combination between, you know, the way that people think differently from each other and how that can challenge and create greater innovation through conflict and through, through differences, not, I don’t mean a negative conflict, I mean, through constructive conflict. But also people’s different lived experiences being really critical to to that sort of whole mix of perspectives that we need. Remember, we, we need these this mix more and more because the challenges that we face today was just so absolutely massive. And so no single leader, no single team, no single organization or indeed country can consult the challenges and the opportunities that our world presents today.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:16:11):
Well, am I also then by just using cognitive and in terms of diversity, am I necessarily limiting this debate? Because I was talking to some people from IDEO, you know, the design thinking company, and they were reminding me that visual diversity is, is you know, and, and, and then also emotional diversity is also important. How do you unpack this? And it’s, it strikes me that this whole notion could very quickly escalate into something very hard to conceive of in an organizational context, because one thing is mandated diversity or mandated kind of ways of looking at things and in the U S right, there’s regulations on the kinds of discrimination you should not do in terms of recruiting talent, but there’s really no end to the kind of diversity is there that one optimally, you know, is talking about, if you say, you know, the world population is diverse. Now I’ve just started unpacking what that diversity is. It’s, it’s kind of endless. And I, and isn’t that the point, I mean, it’s almost like biodiversity at some point.

Rebekah Steele (00:17:14):
Exactly, exactly. It is complex, you know, ideally what you’d be working toward is really getting to know people as their coal being, you know, all their cognitive, emotional, and identity or visible differences and similarities, but getting to know a whole person and working to help them really flourish and the best leaders and managers figure out how they can put a mix of people together knowing those whole people as individuals, but set them together so that they can make the most of those kind of colliding

Rebekah Steele (00:17:51):
To, to Allison’s point. So those different ways of thinking different ways of working and solving problems, different lived experiences and perspectives all come together that can really make sure you’re avoiding, you know, the errors of group think and boosting innovation and more,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:18:07):
Well, I’m thrilled to have that angle on it because I think you know, the main benefits here are very important to, to point out. Right. And I, and I think your book is about that, right? You’re, you’re saying this is not going to be a book about all of the all of the musts and sherds of inclusion. You, you, you’re trying to point to some of the benefits. Can you guys list up for me you know, or is there somewhere in the book that you list it’s very structured? How how either you know, diversity or inclusion, or both affects the bottom line, or are there studies now emerging to start showing this? I mean, I would imagine it’s very difficult to do so, but

Alison Maitland (00:18:52):
Go ahead, Alison. Okay. I mean, it’s not as hard as you can say, it’s impossible to do it. There have been an awful lot of studies and we have pulled them together in the book. And actually we are, we also we don’t just look at the, sort of the here and now business case, but we also look at how so we, we call it the three P’s. So we look at how inclusion can help organizations with their performance, with a preparedness, for the future, for it, for a challenging future full of opportunities as well. And, and for for really responding to the need for purpose. So we call them the three PS preparedness, preparedness performance, preparedness purpose. I don’t know, Rebecca do want to talk about the performance aspects initially? Sure, sure. Well, I think, you know there, there certainly is increasing evidence for these kinds of tangible impacts that are good for organizations, including for-profits organizations.

Rebekah Steele (00:19:57):
So that’s really heartening to see. And one of the things that we bring up in the book too, is that just because something is hard to measure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go after it and, you know, be innovative and create new ways to measure this, just like you would any other difficult business driver like marketing or finance or what have you. But, you know, we do see that inclusion definitely can fulfill kind of the potential of a diverse mix of people, because it does enable people to succeed without leaving people out. And we do see the evidence that it has a positive impact on things like talent, attraction decision making quality customer experiences innovation we’ve mentioned before, you know, profit and revenue social license to operate and reputation and many other things. And, you know, some of the companies I’m working with are

Rebekah Steele (00:20:48):
Really working hard to make sure they’re seeing how they can measure the impacts, not just do we have inclusion, are we making progress on making our organizations more inclusive, but what impact is it having? And we have a couple of case studies in the book that speak to that.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:21:05):
Yeah. So maybe let’s get to that, but, but here’s, here’s my question. Who are the actors that are, are there types of groups that are now pushing this forward? So is it corporations, you know, some of your clients, you said, is it the leaders themselves or particular types of leaders in those corporations, or is it more bottom up pressure from, I don’t know, employee groups or, or even social movements kind of aside from corporations, or is it still kind of government pushing this through, which obviously, you know, there’s a reason why government pushes it, you know, it comes from pressure from, from the citizenry. So why is the attention to both you know, inclusion and diversity now, arguably soaring compared to a decade ago?

Alison Maitland (00:21:47):
Well, it’s happening at multiple levels. And I mean, actually you’ve, you’ve outlined pretty much all of them. I think, I mean, there is pressure coming from, from governments as obviously the regulators that are putting pressure on companies in terms of the you know, what, what their, their rights look like, especially their leadership ranks. But isn’t yet so much about inclusion. It’s more of more about diversity. But there’s pressure from investors as well on, on the same on the same front, because there’s so much evidence now that both diversity and inclusion are good for the bottom line. So, so that’s coming from externally. It’s also coming internally from leaders. I mean, most senior leaders recognize the very few who would, who would not today recognize that this is a very important area for them to focus on on recent events, particularly black lives matter and the COVID crisis, which has highlighted systemic. They’ve both highlighted, systemic, ingrained injustices in society. And in organizations have put enormous pressure on leaders to to speak out and to and actually to, you know, to say, well, we are doing something about this. The question then is what are they doing? And is it enough

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Trond Arne Undheim (00:24:26):
Well, and I think that’s, that is my question, right? What breakthroughs, if any are needed or, or perhaps calming. And as you see, and let’s, you know, just pick inclusion perhaps first, because it seems to me that at least, you know, without taking a very detailed look, it is a little amorphous. So, you know, I can kind of maybe see that that, that this trend is is coming more onto the stage, but it’s hard to kind of pin down without, you know digging into it, which you have done, what are the specific breakthroughs that are needed both at a systemic level. And then let’s talk about how you actually break it down into book, because you actually have specific messages to senior leaders, to middle managers and, and then to individuals, which I’m assuming is your message to society, basically any reader of the book. And there’s at least those three groups just to take a kind of a role that you might have in, in, in an organization, each of them have a different job to do.

Rebekah Steele (00:25:25):
Yes. I mean, we do speak to the need to take action and action. That actually makes a difference not just action that ticks a box, and that action includes things that individuals can do at any level in an organization or society. And also the need to add to that with a really a full strategy, a comprehensive, cohesive strategy because inclusion and its benefits won’t just emerge because of individual will or, or even collective well. And it certainly takes more than kind of pledges or policies. And one of our main points is that it takes more than the piecemeal approaches that we see most organizations taking today where there might be, you know, a few inclusion training programs or a diversity day event or something like that. But there’s not a cohesive strategy that everywhere employees look or workers, look, they’re seeing that inclusion is the way to go.

Rebekah Steele (00:26:22):
And so what it really takes is this comprehensive, cohesive strategy. Again, just like, we’d see with any other business driver and this needs to address both what’s inside the organization and also outside the walls of the organization. You have an example of that, Rebecca. Yeah. So internally the strategy really needs to address inclusion through kind of seven key interconnected components that determine how an organization actually works. And so that would be things like how it, how inclusion contributes to priority business goals how leaders are selected, how they’re held accountable the kinds of skills that workers have, but also their beliefs and how these things result in different behaviors and actions, the roles that the structures of an organization that support inclusion and the metrics, those are all the, or many of the kind of internal aspects we need to look at the external things mean taking into account additional elements, like, you know, public policy regulations, education the kinds of things outside an organization that either support or hinder inclusion inside an organization.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:27:31):
But have you seen any real life? So you said you had case studies. Do you have any names or anywhere, any sources? I mean, you can read your book and there are some named examples in there, but are there some, I mean, is the right approach, should I say, rather to go looking for individual corporations who have somehow done this, or where there are case studies to describe kind of what they’re doing or is that the wrong approach to to take here?

Rebekah Steele (00:27:56):
That’s a good question. And I think, you know, one thing we want to do is learn from the organizations that are being most successful today and also realize where they’re still limited and not achieving the results that they need or is that really matter, or, yeah.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:28:10):
And the reason I’m asking you was that I believe you, in your book actually have an example of a person who you interviewed, who said, Oh, my organization won an inclusion prize, but I don’t feel like we are inclusive. So it’s like your interview subjects are kind of denying that they should be interviewed for an inclusion. I mean, is this endemic for the people who are active in this community that they’re, so self-reflective that they’re never happy with with what they have achieved or, or, I mean, how do you see this?

Rebekah Steele (00:28:40):
I think there’s a real mix. You know, the people in these roles, leading diversity, equity and inclusion you know, come from different perspectives. Some are really just focused on, you know, how can we do the best of what’s being done today be really effective at that and see what kinds of results we can get. And, and some kind of have their own blind spots about how effective the work really is today. There are others who are really looking for transformational approaches that take us, you know, kind of light years beyond the kind of progress we’ve seen so far. So we want to learn from the companies doing this well, we also need to look at each individual organization and develop a customized strategy that really makes sense for them to make the most of diversity equity and inclusion throughout their organization and related to their mission or purpose. And we certainly see this you know, broader ecosystem approach emerging with more progressive and, and highly committed.

Rebekah Steele (00:29:42):
You know, I see it in startups and scale ups and mature organizations, but it’s still kind of the the ones on the leading edge. One example that I don’t think we do talk about in the box, but I’ll, I’ll add to that is a retail organization. That’s explicitly embedding diversity, equity and inclusion into everything they do. And that’s what the focus on enabling their mission, critical business priorities around innovation and customer experience that are going to make or break their success and their really comprehensive strategy addresses, inclusion, and leadership and their culture in their business processes and systems in their chain, education, governance metrics, all of that’s internal, but they’re also collaborating with other companies externally to address systemic discrimination in broader society.

Beyond GDP as a success measure

Trond Arne Undheim (00:30:35):
So I wanted to to bring I think this is in your book because you’re talking about how GDP is maybe not the ideal. And I would say it’s actually a terrible measure of economic progress. It’s a very simple measure. One of the things that I don’t know if you have put this forward, or as part of this group of female economists that have come out criticizing GDP, but anyway, GWI is in your book, grows a world inclusion as a metric. Where does that come from? And, you know, is that realistic? I mean, GDP rate is extremely established. It’s a, I would say arguably a pretty poor measure of anything, but, but it is a simple measure that economists have been using for decades and decades to, to make some sense of the world economy. What would it do to try to include some other metric in there? And how would you measure inclusion on the broad scale like that?

Alison Maitland (00:31:31):
Well, that was, that was particular meeting, but that, that Rebecca participated in and asked that question and just, just to put it into a broader context in our book, we were saying that that inclusion to, to really to take hold and to thrive in organizations and in society needs to be given the same kind of impetus as a sustainability, as environmental, social, economic sustainability. So we see these two things is as interdependent and kind of two core pillars of the company of the future of the successful sustainable company of the future. But it needs to be seen in the larger system, the larger world system, which is why we, we raised questions in the book about, you know, the capitalist system, which many people are now saying, you know, doesn’t work for them, or the Edelman surveys are showing this and you know, other systems and how, how change is needed because change is needed on a much wider scale.

Alison Maitland (00:32:41):
And I think Rebecca should really talk to the GWI, wherever that, where that came from.

Rebekah Steele (00:32:48):
Yeah, well, I certainly had read you know, even going back to the 1960s would be my frame of economist and world leaders questioning the limitations of GDP, but at this meeting which was focused on the future of inclusion and diversity and equity, there was just a start off of the meeting where everyone attending was allowed to sort of come up with questions they’d like to be considered for further exploration during the meeting. And this just kind of popped into my head, although in part, because the research that Alison and I did for the book, you know, let us to look at things like the tons looking at gross national happiness, for example. So I popped up that question and it did get attention and we did further explore it.

Rebekah Steele (00:33:36):
You know, asking some of the same questions that you asked Trond about, you know, is this practical, is it something that can replace or be added to a domestic product and so forth, but you know, it, it is aspirational, but practicality doesn’t always change the world. We have to be more aspirational. And I think, you know, we do speak very specifically in the book about what it takes to measure inclusion and more complete and more tangible ways than we’re seeing often done in organizations and society today. And there’s another, sorry, if I can just just add something to this cause there’s all this talk about building back better. How do we build back better off to the COVID grocers? Like over crisis is of course still very much with us and there’s still so many, so many uncertainties, but in building back better, it isn’t really, it cannot just be a matter of thinking of new policy solutions, new things to put in place.

Alison Maitland (00:34:39):
We also need to look at the process by which those policies are made and the process by which they are implemented. And what we would argue would be that you really need to have inclusive processes to do that. You need to design inclusion writing at the start. So if you’re looking to grassroots communities to come up with solutions, but it might be solutions to climate change in the area or climate, the climate emergency in their, in their region, you need to get a, you need to have those people feel that they’ve got a voice. You need to have all of their ideas because they are the people who are closest to the ground really knew it. And in order to do that, you have to have it, you have to design inclusion into the process of getting that of getting solutions. And then that sense of accountability responsibility. We are, we all have a responsibility for this for implementing those solutions. So that’s just one example.

Alison Maitland (00:35:39):
I wanted to take it for a moment to kind of the field of startups, but also merged with this idea of HR and HR tech specifically, because it’s a, it’s an area where there there’s been quite a bit of progress in the last few years, mostly because I guess these machine learning algorithms have gotten better at counting, counting things and, and you know, the HR organizations have then been approached with the better systems in terms of applicant tracking, but also rewards and recognition software and, and, and thirdly, also kind of voice of the employee type platform where you are capturing some of the things you’re talking about there, to what extent is technology a panacea for this area in terms of potentially being able to capture more of the surrounding feedback that an organization needs in order to capture so many of these aspects that we were just talking about, or is it too simplistic to think that we’re going to find some solution that’s just going to magically capture this?

Alison Maitland (00:36:46):
Well, I think I’d start by pointing to some of the some of the dangers actually of AI systems, if we don’t design them with diversity and inclusion in the mix. So if you don’t have diverse design teams, we’ve seen some really unfortunate outcomes. I mean, there was the example that was you know, the things that could go wrong that was reported by racism and other organizations and media organizations about that, that experimental recruiting tool that Amazon had described because they found that it was discriminating against women. So I think that was, that was a hiring engine that was rejecting women for technical posts because it was programmed to, to vet people based on patterns in, in CVS that of previous candidates, most of whom were men. So there is, you know, there’s such a warning signal that AI is about about sort of

Trond Arne Undheim (00:37:49):
Conservative. Yeah, they’re very conservative in nature. They, they, they are weighing past experience of course, because it doesn’t have any, any other type of effects.

Alison Maitland (00:38:01):
Exactly. So, so it’s, it’s absolutely critical that that the tech companies call on a really diverse mix of people, whether it’s in the design teams themselves, or actually more broadly in terms of you know, the way that they are doing their business. So, but, but getting people in from the education world, from the medical world, you know from professionals, from across different sectors, as well as, as that diversity of things, you know, of the demographic type diversity that, that we’ve been talking about before because you, you can just have horrendous

Alison Maitland (00:38:36):
Mistakes and I know what she does as an example in the book, isn’t there a case study in the book of how something went wrong with it, with a tech company. We can tell you about that if you’d like,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:38:48):
Well, so I guess where I wanted to just bring in this idea that as you have pointed out, right, we are in a disruptive moment right now, and that’s not, you know, under debate, right? It’s a, it’s a confluence of things happening right now. It’s kind of curious because we were in a phase of almost unprecedented technological progress, or at least so, so we said to ourselves, right, but right now we’re caught in this very interesting moment where there clearly are a lot of voices questioning the very basis of you know, what we’ve built our society on. I was going to ask you in, in your, in, in this field of diversity, what are the disruptive forces that you think right now are going to shape the debate? And the, you know, if we take this kind of towards the next decade, where do we go from here? And, and what, what, if anything, that’s going on around COVID or around even these positive trends in the workplace where they are now putting in place more and more diversity and inclusion initiatives, what are some of the things that will shape the next decade and where are we going in this field?

Rebekah Steele (00:40:05):
I think to get that started that startups and movements and pandemics like COVID-19 are disruptors. They make us challenge the status quo and push new ways of thinking and new ways of working. I was just reading a great article, featuring some insights from a retired professor. Pomana from Johns Hopkins who talked about pandemics as accelerators of mental renewal, because people listen and they connect and they talk, and they are kind of responding to a whirlwind of danger and, and thinking in new ways. And, you know, the startups that I’ve worked with are of course, often very agile disruptors, challenging ideas and products and services or processes, and they tend to be agile. So can adapt kind of quickly to changes or, or to new insights. And it’s all about in addition to the movements like black lives matter, and me too you know, these make us rethink essentials about work what the world really needs and how do we understand the essence of people and our relationships with each other. And this gives us a framing for a kind of future where all people can be better off. And so, you know, in the book, Alison, I really call for more ambition with inclusion, to envision designing an inclusive future that reduces disparities among people that, that can make the most of a full mix of people and contributes to broader sustainability.

Rebekah Steele (00:41:35):
But that kind of requires a couple of things. I mean, first we do need to actually get to work to collectively design inclusive ways to make the most of a diverse mix of people. So we’re consistently tapping into collective wisdom and creating innovations and also getting the collective commitment to bring about and sustain these innovations for a better future.

Alison Maitland (00:41:59):
What I’m sensing here between you, Rebecca, sorry for interrupting you. I didn’t mean that between Rebecca and, and you, Alison a slight sort of a, you’re taking two paths, at least with me in this interview you know, in terms of optimism and not pessimism, but realism. That’s what I’m sensing between the two of you. Because if you look at the next decade, you could also say, and I’m gonna paraphrase and, and, you know, boxing, Alison by doing so, and please defend yourself. But, you know, you could say this is looking pretty bleak because, you know, right now we need to get society back in working. People need, we have a bigger problem and getting people back to work, then we have actually redesigning work in society versus Rebecca. You’re sort of saying, this is the moment where we’re going to redesign everything and the system.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:42:45):
So I think you both seem to agree that the system is broken, but you would have to agree. And I guess I’m going to take us inside here for a second. There is something in, in all of the complexities that are happening right now that could just lead to, you know, we’re actually now need to spend a lot of time just on pointing out all the problems. And so we might actually be setting ourselves back a little bit as, as we are reacting versus just kind of jumping to this new future. So where do you stand on this? And, and, you know, is it, could it go in both directions?

Alison Maitland (00:43:21):
Hmm, great. Very good question. And it’s interesting, cause I mean, I think I I’m essentially an optimist, but I’m also, I’m also very, I’m very conscious of where the trends are pointing right at the moment. And this, this is a, this is a moment when things are looking in many ways, very bleak. But at the same time, the capacity for human re-invention and for the human spirit to sort of win out is, is extraordinary, phenomenal. So, I mean, I, I, I do tend to be an optimist if you’re saying that I’m sounding rather more pessimistic, maybe it’s just because

Trond Arne Undheim (00:44:03):
I meant to say you were sounding more of a realist. Allison you’re sounding like,

Alison Maitland (00:44:07):
Well, I mean, realism and optimism can go hand in hand. I do see, I do actually see a huge opportunity or opportunities that are in this crisis. One of them, I think Rebecca was talking about, about one of them, which is which is about how organizations can get together to work for change across society. Not just, not just internally as they, as leading organizations have been doing with the climate emergency inclusion is also, there is an emergency to, to address here. And we do see that but some leading organizations are now putting those two things together in one under one umbrella. And that was where we think the future of, you know, the most pioneering organizations are going to lead us and pioneering organizations tend to pull others with them. Another thing that we’ve seen in the crisis, which which has been extraordinary, actually, we’ve seen many examples of very good very bad leadership from world leaders.

Alison Maitland (00:45:20):
And some of the best, you know, one of the best examples of a strong and compassionate, strong and compassionate leadership has been the inclusive leadership or of the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda, Arden, who has, and they have managed extremely well. They’ve managed the crisis extremely well in New Zealand. I mean, okay, you can say, there are lots of reasons why they have done that, but they put in, in place measures right at the start. But, but she is an example of many of the, of the traits and the the factors that need to be in place for inclusion to thrive. And we talk in our book, we actually talk about 10 enablers of inclusion and just endured and has, has demonstrated quite a number of those, including what we talk about being shared power, shared power, distributed power that’s to say people having power, not exercising power over other people, but sharing power with people.

Alison Maitland (00:46:24):
And she did that by giving very clear messages to the people of New Zealand, that they were all in this together. They all had a responsibility and her message was to them was be strong and be kind. And she said, you know, you need to look after your neighbors. She was very clear about it. You look after your neighbors look after yourselves. And she also had a very clear message, which we talk about as being shared purpose, very important part of inclusion and the shared message was we’re going to save lives. That is the key thing. That’s the priority right now. That’s what we’re going to do. So she, she’s an example of inclusive leadership, a world leader she’s been much written about, much commented on, and we see that kind of, that style of leadership as being critical for the world that we’re moving into this new world, in which more and more people are working dispersed, we weren’t calling it virtual cause it’s real work, but we’re all working, you know, in a dispersed way that using these kinds of this kind of technology, then you need those inclusive people’s skills and they will, they will fry people with those skills will thrive in the future that’s that’s leadership to the new reality.

Alison Maitland (00:47:42):
Alison, it took me a bit of time to gather up enough courage to ask this question, but the elephant in the room and in all inclusion discussions is men: the role of men. And I often feel this as, you know, being a man that it is sometimes hard to figure out how to insert yourself in this debate. And, and this, by the way goes to any debate where you’re perhaps not thinking of yourself as, well, you’re part of the problem, but you’re not in it as, as part of the solution. So how do you insert yourself in the debate? And it goes for black lives matters in terms of, you know, for me, certainly, and it goes into this debate and, you know, I don’t think we should do a, a massive session right now on female leadership, but clearly what you’re pointing to in COVID.

Rebekah Steele (00:48:25):
And this has been widely discussed is it’s so happens that right now at this moment, female leaders seem to be coming out on top in lots of actually studies that they’ve now started to do around this. But without making it into kind of a, a, you know, one agenda versus another, how do you chart the role for men in both inclusion and diversity debates? What is the appropriate way? And is it appropriate like me to have this feeling that, you know, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to insert myself in this debate. I know that we obviously have to become part of the solution, but I’m S I guess I’m so afraid of stepping wrong.

Alison Maitland (00:49:08):
Well, it’s wonderful that you’ve raised this elephant in the room, isn’t it Rebecca? I mean, it’s so critical and we do address it head on in the book. I mean, we’ve got a section about how to get, you know, how to get white men on board. Because it’s a question that’s raised over and over again, but the key thing, I think the key thing is, first of all, that book really talks about inclusion as being for everyone. Everybody is involved, everybody is responsible for it, and everyone can experience exclusion, including white men can experience exclusion. So once you kind of, you, you frame it in that way.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:49:50):
Let me tell you when white men feel excluded, they let people know. I think that’s actually, you know, that’s not even a joke, right? That’s part of the problem because when the groups that are elites, or suddenly start feeling like they’re, they’re not, they really make themselves very vocal. Right. And, and that could be, I guess, also a massive challenge.

Alison Maitland (00:50:10):
Yes. So suddenly come up, come across that, but they’re also white men who hide, you know, who cover what you know, what they’re experiencing or a part of themselves, because they don’t feel that they will fit in at work. But anyway, to answer you, well, I’ll have a go at answering your question. I’m sure Rebecca will, will, will want to jump in as well. But it is critical for white men to be for men, sorry, let’s say, let’s say for men, I don’t know. Maybe we should say for white men to be you know, part of the solution and to be driving change, because it is tied to a better outcomes for business and to better outcomes for society. And that benefits all of us. But also because, you know, it’s often white men who have, who have the most power and organizations or the dominant people, and it does require change.

Alison Maitland (00:51:05):
And as a white woman, I’m experiencing this myself in terms of the black lives matter movement and reading and learning more about the white privilege that I’ve experienced all my life, that I’ve had all my life, things that I take for granted. And as, as white women, I think that we can you know, from the experiences that we’ve had in our own working lives and some of the things that have happened to us, we can also, you know, identify similarities, like things like tokenism being, you know, being the token woman or the token black person in the room, or being asked to you know, go on a panel or to speak for the whole of your sex or for the whole of your race, things like that. Which you know, which are very uncomfortable for us. So it’s, it’s about, we all have to make this change ourselves and it is personal and it takes courage.

Alison Maitland (00:52:06):
I just say, you know, be courageous, cause we’ve all got to do it. What would you add, Rebecca? I love what you said already. And I would just add that, you know, often people get sort of held back because of the sense of discomfort around potentially saying the wrong thing or taking a misstep when it comes to this work. And the reality is that you’re guaranteed no matter who you are to have a misstep for quite a few. But you know, we can’t take our privilege and just say, well, we don’t want to be uncomfortable. So we’re not going to be, it’s much more uncomfortable to be in a marginalized population. So what we need to do with any privilege that we have is actually just Wade right in and think about it as sort of similar to, you know, becoming good at a sport. Initially you’re not very good at it and you make mistakes. You could be very uncomfortable with lots of sore muscles and injuries and so forth along the way, but that doesn’t mean you don’t keep going. And the more you practice, the better you get and the better impact you have.

How to track the field?

Trond Arne Undheim (00:53:11):
So that’s actually my, my last question relates to this because these topics are, as we talked about, they’re complicated and, and you Alison brought in earned privilege, which actually happens to even to marginalized groups because you realize that there are, there’s some aspect of my identity where I actually have a much more privileged access you know, than others. And, and for women, this happened around black lives matters for, for others. It’s it’s different. But anyway, how do we track this field? I mean, your number one answer is of course go out and buy a indivisible, buy your book, but how do you yourself stay up to date? And what do you recommend my listeners do to practice our inclusion and diversity muscles beyond just reading one book? Are there particular websites, particular newsletters, particular daily practices that one should do to get this done?

Alison Maitland (00:54:10):
Hmm, very good question. I mean, one of the things that I think we would like to tell you about, because this is something that you know, certainly certainly one, one multinational is going to be doing this, this fall is, is something we call reading for action circles. So and this is around our book, indivisible but it’s, it’s within within organizations setting up circles. So where every employee from senior leader to individual contributor can take part. And basically, you know, you, you read the book and then you come together to discuss the insights from it. And what you’ve learned about inclusion, our watch, you are going to do differently, what actions you’re going to take. And this can create both a sort of grassroots movement for change and small actions for change that are very easy to take within your team as an individual as well as you know, systemic change that has to happen at the same time, right through the organization, you know, led by, by senior leaders. So that’s, and it’s a very inclusive way to actually design the future for your organization. What would you add? We’ve got reading lists, of course, massive reading lists as well.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:55:31):
Those are in the book, right. So if they pick up your book, they’ll get access to, to some of those readings,

Alison Maitland (00:55:36):
Quite a lot of references in the boat. We’ve got a lot of notes in the book. Yeah. And and I’m, I mentioned that I was you know, learning about white privilege at the moment. I’m learning more about my white privilege at the moment I’ve been you know, attending some really interesting webinars learning more about, directly about the black experience, the black experience in different cultures as well. And I’m reading Layla side’s amazing book, which is very challenging called me and white supremacy. And really a lot of, you know, you have to do a lot of work with that. There’s a lot of self reflection. And then and then what am I going to do next? So yeah, yeah, a lot of, sort of moving into action,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:56:20):
Rebecca, I’m going to give you the last, we’re just, I’m imagining one of my former

Trond Arne Undheim (00:56:24):
Colleagues, actually, she, she did a several months. She moved into a challenged community somewhere in the United States to learn about her, her, her own privilege. And I think that was a very powerful approach. So, you know, at at any age, there are ways that you can take drastic action in order to try to empathize with you know, with the situation that you’ve just been watching from the sidelines. But Rebecca, what would you say

Rebekah Steele (00:56:50):
In terms of learning, there are just so many opportunities, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction reading podcasts films and documentaries are great ways to gain insight and empathy. You know, I think some of the most valuable things that have happened in my life have to do with actually connecting with people who are both similar and different to me, and, you know, just embracing those relationships as opportunities to learn. And certainly even though I’ve been doing this work for more than 30 years I definitely sometimes still make mistakes because we’re dealing with human dynamics, but you know, a really good thing to learn if people don’t know it already is how to say, I’m sorry, and to learn and reflect and do something different going forward. You know, and hopefully one day we’ll get to beyond the COVID restrictions and be able to travel again, because I really appreciate what you’re saying about a colleague who had an opportunity or took an opportunity to move into a different kind of community to learn firsthand.

Rebekah Steele (00:57:53):
And if people can’t actually take that step, they can do you know, things like I’ve done, which is to go to a different country and do a home stay and get to know people on a one to one basis and, and reflect on that and learn, and then to really make a commitment to not just take individual action, but to get together with other people to take collective action in order to design a better future, that does address the difficulties that we have in our systems that don’t work for everyone today. And to drive that systemic change that can design a better future.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:58:27):
Okay. Then on that note, a mix of individual and collective action. I thank you so much for what you have taught me today. And I hope that we were able to bring some of that to our listeners. Thank you.

Alison Maitland (00:58:38):
Thank you for the opportunity

Outro (00:58:41):
You have just listened to episode 23 of the futurist podcast with host, Trond Arne Undheim, futurist and author. The topic was the future of inclusion and diversity in business. Our guests were Alison Maitland and Rebekah Steele, authors of Indivisible, radically lead thinking inclusion for sustainable business results. We talked about why both inclusion and diversity separately, and together matter to the bottom line. We discussed the sensitive aspects of white male privilege and how even disadvantaged groups might be privileged in some other way, which entails. We are all on a journey. We discussed why these topics are soaring now compared to a decade ago, what approaches deliver results that matter what the metrics are and where we go from here? My takeaway is that unless diversity is understood widely as a competitive asset, those organizations that are lucky enough to have it are likely not monetizing as for inclusion. It’s important far beyond the fence aspect. It turns out all of us have aspects that may lead us to be excluded from something unless society explicitly mandates being inclusive. Again, the benefits are tangible and important as for where we go from here. It is both an individual and a collective responsibility, but the issues are squarely on the agenda. Now we just need smart ways to make progress. Thanks for listening. If you like the show, subscribe at or in your preferred podcast player and rate us with five stars. Futurized–Preparing you to deal with disruption.