HSM Spotlight: The importance of representation

I, like many in the UK, have been swept up with the Women’s Football European Championships as the so-far all-conquering England team canters through the rounds (this was written on the 22nd July; I take no responsibility for what happens after this point).

A few months ago, I was lucky to get tickets to a game and took my partner to what was her 3rd live football match. As we left the stadium after a lively 2-0 win for Germany over the Spanish, she said to me, “I enjoyed that match more than any of the others we have been to, and I think it is because I felt like I could relate to those on the pitch”.

Being a future of work consultant, the first thing I thought of was, of course, how it was an excellent example of why representation matters. The parameters of a football game are the same regardless of who is playing. Yet when it was women, she participated more actively and was the first time she specifically requested to return in the future. This was because she felt a sense of belonging in that stadium in a way she hadn’t in any other stadium before.

Here at HSM Advisory, our research shows that inclusion & diversity have separate goals and differing levers to drive success. Diversity is about having people that are different to each other. There are well-documented reasons for why diversity drives further innovation, improves creativity, and ultimately leads to better business outcomes. Programmes to drive success focus on metrics-based goals, transparency around targets and accountability for progress.

Inclusion is about how culturally and socially accepted a person feels in a specific environment. This becomes more difficult when you increase diversity. Attending live football drives powerful, almost tribal, feelings of inclusion, but largely for men and particularly white men (in the UK). I have always felt included at football because everyone around me is like me, which is not the case for my partner. So, whilst a sense of inclusion can be very powerful in that situation, diversity suffers as a result.

Without a feeling of inclusion, the diversity you have worked so hard to build in the organisation will quickly melt away as people leave to find alternative places where they do feel like they belong. With them, go the business benefits of diversity.

Therefore, it is vital that diverse people arriving in an organisation feel that they:

1. Will be treated fairly

2. Can trust your organisation to have their interests at heart

3. Feel they belong with the people around them

Representation is critical here and must exist at all levels. If a candidate arrives and sees no senior managers that relate to them, they may feel they belong at the level they have arrived at but would not if they were promoted. My partner was surrounded by more women than usual in the stadium crowd, but if the players on the pitch had still been men, the effect would not have been the same as they hold the power in that situation.

Ultimately, inclusion and diversity support each other. An inclusive culture enables diverse people to succeed. Diverse people who succeed create the representation that causes others to feel they belong. Therefore, a holistic and joined up approach must be taken, but one that does not forget to focus on the unique goals of each in turn.

I would be interested to know how representation impacts your sense of belonging. You can email me here or connect with me on LinkedIn here.