Diversity and Inclusion in the Infinite Game of Business
Ubuntu. No, I’m not talking about the operating system. In this case, I’m referring to the Zimbabwean word that rose to notoriety during the days of South African Apartheid. Ubuntu… While there is no real English equivalent, a string of words does the job: Ubuntu means “I am, because we are.” When the great visionaries of the anti-Apartheid movement like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu looked out upon a deeply divided South Africa, they recognized amazing diversity and the potential of a far more just and inclusive society. After Apartheid collapsed, Ubuntu became a rallying cry for the establishment of a government that honored the value and contributions of every person in South Africa.
So, what does Ubuntu have to do with business? Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). If you’re serious about participating in the infinite game, that is, leading your business for long-term relevance and value and not just short-term victories, then a commitment to D&I must be a top priority. This may require a significant shift in your approach to hiring, promotion and overall Talent strategy to be successful. Especially if your leadership table is comprised of a single homogeneous team (predominantly white and male in North America). This shift must start with potentially difficult and honest dialogue about experience and privilege. For many of these leaders who had an unencumbered rise up the corporate ladder, it may be hard to recognize and action D&I deficiencies in the business. This isn’t an affront against white males, just the reality of privilege. It is vital to be honest about the influence of privilege in our culture and in business (and yes, I say this, with a deep understanding that I too, as a white female, have privilege).
Now that we have tackled this sensitive topic, let’s look at the benefits of a diverse and inclusive culture. For starters, innovation. When we talk about D&I, we often frame it as building a safe space for our colleagues. With safety comes the comfort to challenge the status quo and to think about new and different. Having an environment that is diverse and inclusive opens the gates for novel thought, practices, products, and marketing – it becomes an environment that is an incubator for innovation.
A hyper-focus on D&I also has the potential to supercharge your business growth. A BCG study found that diverse teams drove 19% higher growth rates, because of the innovation of the teams. Just think…. businesses that want to reach new customer segments – how better to do that than leverage the insight and experiences of those same segments that exists WITHIN the organization.
Ubuntu. Yes, this is a lofty word. I am, because we are. However, I think Ubuntu gets to the core of what it means to be in the infinite game. Businesses that are committed to best practices in Diversity and Inclusion are in it for the long term and will encounter sustainable innovation and growth. Not to mention, it’s quite simply the right thing to do. I love that at IBM, our Ubuntu phrase is “You cannot BE what you cannot SEE”.