We all know instinctively that diversity matters. We know it from everyday lore sayings: “two heads are better than one” – which at the most basic level is a reminder that we all need others, with different perspectives and different points of view. There’s a good deal of evidence from management consultancy surveys that more diverse companies are more successful companies. The McKinsey Report on diversity draws together some of the most important ideas: more diverse organisations are more likely to attract top talent, more likely to understand their customers, more likely to report high levels of employee satisfaction, and more likely to make better decisions. If you are operating in a complex, diverse society, working with a wide variety of people, it’s pretty obvious that you need to mobilise a range of perspectives to understand those you are working with: for a university, that means your students, your partners, your community.
But there’s a more fundamental reason why diversity matters: mobilising diverse perspectives may make good organisational sense, but it also makes good human sense too. It’s not simply a question of doing things which are beneficial, it’s also about human rights. The only surprising thing is that it’s taken society, and organisations, so long to grasp that that is the case. It’s well worth looking at the infographic at rightsinfo, not only to be reminded of just how rapidly legal understandings of human rights have changed, but also how recent much of this is.
On Tuesday this week, we shall be celebrating the launch of our LGBT+ Allies network, as well as re-launching SIGNAL, Sheffield Hallam’s LGBT+ staff network. SIGNAL provides a forum for staff who identify as LGBT+ to network, and advises the University on policies affecting LGBT+ staff. It’s all too easy for institutions – however well-meaning – to fail to understand the world from different perspectives. There are all sorts of reasons why that is the case, but if we are going to be serious about grasping it, the responsibilities lie within ourselves. Strong staff networks provide support for individuals, and that matters – healthy workplaces are workplaces in which every employee feels at ease – but they also provide routes through which different perspectives can feed through to organisational decision-making.
Becoming a more inclusive university is central to our thinking, and launching the Allies network reinforces our commitment to ensuring equality and inclusion across the University. As I write this, one hundred and thirty-two colleagues across the University have signed up as an LGBT+ ally – I am delighted to be one of them – as a recognition that being inclusive is not a matter of lip-service to an idea, but involves being prepared to be an advocate and supporter, an ally and a point of contact. That means committing to standing up for colleagues, to making an effort to understand issues, and working to create a working environment where LGBT+ colleagues feel included and accepted. It means standing up for and championing LGBT+ equality. One member of the SIGNAL network put it like this on Twitter: “an ally/visible point of contact means I’m less likely to have a negative experience being myself if I talk to that person”. I hope that other colleagues across the University will be willing to sign up as an ally and to act positively as a result of doing so – you can find out more, and sign up, on the SIGNAL blog. About seventy people are already signed up to the launch on Tuesday 31 October; the last few spaces are bookable on Eventbrite.
Some people have asked – in the inevitable Twitter debates – whether, and why, we need an allies network, arguing that all our staff should be allies. There’s some truth in this, of course: in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need this. But – and this is where the rightsinfo data is relevant again – we live in a far from ideal world. The Allies network is a commitment that if you want things to be different, then you need to make them different; that making all individuals feel valued and included depends on actions, and on actions we can all take.