When David Cameron recently fielded an all-male frontbench at prime minister’s questions it was a reminder not only that the Conservative party has a long way to go but also of the entrenched exclusion that still characterises much of our political, business and civic life.
Perhaps the greatest value of Stephen Frost’s account of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics is to show that it need not necessarily be so. As the head of diversity at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games he was part of a team that delivered a Games for everyone where diversity was not just a pious aspiration but a driving force in the vision and delivery of the Games.
Not all the ideas are new. The business case for diversity has been well developed in the last 15 years. What is remarkable in this account, however, is that there was a systemic approach to its implementation
Frost attributes this very real success to a new approach to diversity. He suggests there have been three historical approaches to this. The first is essentially a didactic, compliance model – top-down, relying on training and awareness-raising, working towards quotas and legal reporting. The second is a corporate social responsibility model which he criticises as ‘external’ to the core business of the organisation. His third, preferred, approach is based on diversity as a business strategy with integrated systems designed to embed the benefits of difference, with both bottom-up and top-down leadership, target zones, high frequency real-time reporting and individual accountability.
Diversity and inclusion, he argues, are not a zero-sum game; we can enlarge the pie. It is not about creating new ancillary structures but removing barriers to growth within existing structures. If this still has the ring of ‘management speak’, he argues that it is also about releasing fun and creativity, not beating people up because they are off-message.
This is all refreshing, and I can anticipate many sighs of corporate relief, but Frost is a tad optimistic about the universality of this approach. London’s unexpected success in winning the Games owed much to the diversity pitch. In one sense London won not only because it is one of the most diverse cities in the world but through the struggles of diverse communities (and, yes, a lot of legislation) Londoners have begun to learn to be at ease with our diverse selves.
Reading this book it seemed to me that the most powerful driver of change in the Olympics and Paralympics were the very values of equality and social justice. A seminal moment in the work of the diversity team was the visit of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who provides a foreword to the book. The archbishop wowed the Board, launched the Olympic Diversity Leadership Pledge, and said of his visit to LOCOG, ‘I was glad because I wanted to look into their eyes and tell them they were not just hiring people, they were changing lives. They were not just building venues, they were transforming communities. They were not just staging an event, they were providing a spectacle that could inspire and change the world.’
How different from this could Sochi be?
Angela Mason is a former director of Stonewall
The Inclusion Imperative: How Real Inclusion Creates Better Business and Builds Better Societies
Kogan Page | 352pp | £19.99
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