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– how Diversity & Inclusion can evolve to be relevant in this decade -


We brought together 6 Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) leaders from a range of industries and countries with 4 of Aesara’s Executive Coaches to explore the next decade of D&I. Aesara’s motivation was to better understand, coach, unblock and nurture the right leadership and transformation for more healthy, high trust, high performance working environments,

where everyone can be the best version of themselves.

The insights were focused, pragmatic and powerful. With deep thanks to everyone who participated, and to those who could not but completed the pre survey.

Key insights:

1. Acknowledgment that great progress has been made in the last decade which must be built upon. Leaders must recognise different geographies are at different stages of D&I evolution, and that critically, the decisions of last decade need to maintain their relevance to this decade’s generational shift, understanding their values and different needs in the workplace.

2. There was an important question on the label and meaning of Diversity & Inclusion. How appropriate is leading with the term diversity in this decade? The need to refocus on collaboration and agile ways of working was highlighted, which led to the realisation that an inclusive mindset is essential for diversity or collaboration to be successfully embedded into a culture.

3. The role of leadership and how we will inspire change in people and cultures highlighted 3 key points

i) D&I must be led from the boardroom, as an integral driver of the strategy and success of the organisation, rather than “an add on”. There has been a similar shift around Purpose and CSR.

ii) D&I transformation will falter without a coherent strategy aligned with processes, systems & governance that evolves antiquated structures which hinder D&I progress.

iii) D&I must be supported with learning. Diverse groups need to explore together the benefits and challenges of working with an inclusive mindset learning to leverage diversity as a business driver and critically developing the self-awareness around the nuances of D&I in this decade is imperative.

4. Finally, to create momentum, we need measurement both quantitative and qualitative to make the benefits of inclusivity and diversity more visible and viral.

We want to start with the acknowledgement that huge progress has been made in the last decade from the passion, conviction and drive of a few to bring transparency to the many around issues of prejudice, unconscious biases and antiquated processes and practices that cultivate exclusion and/or biases.

We recognised that technology both helped and at times hindered and that creating sub communities positively creates identification and strength in numbers, however it can also have the unintended consequence of creating a lack of integration and togetherness. There has also been a significant evolution and transformation of many topics in that time; not least around gender identity to name but one. This is against a backdrop of unprecedented times of disruption - both good and bad - in an increasingly volatile, ambiguous and complex world in which we live, love and lead.

Many initiatives which are in place need to be nurtured and strengthened. Great leadership, role modelling from the top and empowerment will nurture a workplace which operates as a community and is conscious of values, common attitudes and the behaviours it shares.

However, to quote the wonderful Marshall Goldsmith, “what got you here, won’t get you there.”

So, what are the important themes for the next decade that we need to address?


There was an important focus on labels and meaning. The debate swiftly moved into agreement on the term ‘’Diversity & Inclusion’’ lacking real meaning as an expression of the need to better include more diverse perspectives in our ways of being and, in so doing, leverage the most value from joint human endeavour.

There is a hesitation centred on headlining the word ‘diversity’ with concerns it is linked with an onerous ‘box ticking’ culture which, ironically, had led to some feeling excluded from the debate or threatened by it.

There was use of the phrase ‘invisible diversity’ in response to recognising less visible elements of difference (opinions, backgrounds, socio economics etc). At this point the whole notion of ‘’difference’’ can become self-defeating and/or impossible to micro categorise. Is difference the new norm when you look at the emerging Gen Z culture? If we focus on difference, do we fail to leverage commonality? If commonality becomes purpose led, can we naturally become more curious and effective?

Whilst in some regions (India was one reference point) there was a recognition that the word diversity and deliberate diversity quotas remained important, in other regions there was a wish to re-frame the way forward.

Many participants felt this was in fact already underway with ‘Inclusivity’ becoming the more dominant theme. Connie Liu of VF Corporation in Hong Kong felt that going forwards the debate would be far more ‘inclusion focused’ and was keen to ask the specific question of how inclusion would be ‘re-imagined’ in the coming decade. She also raised the question

of what to do when external factors, such as political challenges, made the seeming good motivation of inclusiveness more complex and highlighted the dilemma this had placed on Hong Kong companies within the past year.

A number of discussions circled back to the word collaboration as being relevant to how this area may re-define itself going forwards. A number of themes can be included within it; collaboration within teams, conflict resolution and critically

for Millennial and Gen z, the power of connection through ‘a higher sense of purpose.’ Perhaps ‘’Inclusivity and Collaboration’’ would become a more helpful term going forward – one that might enable the shift from an extrinsically required motivation to an intrinsically desired one?

Emma Harman of Whalar argued that technology had indirectly/unintentionally created a more inclusive landscape and allowed more fluid organisational structures, including the work of influencers operating outside clear organisational structures. This gave influencers a capacity for agility and creativity which was helpful. She also put forward a powerful provocation around sameness with the use of algorithms - such as those found on Linked-in – seeming to gather ‘people who all look the same’ together and, particularly when looking for new hires, was unhelpful.

The conclusions

In order to have successful Diversity and Collaboration, you must start with a mindset and way of working that is Inclusive.

Jodie summarised this idea of inclusivity leading the focus over the next decade with the comment that ‘The opportunity of inclusivity is to have rich diversity and true collaboration.... which will reap rewards for all.”

Whilst it may feel like a seemingly superficial place to start, there is nothing more important than clarifying how we describe what our purpose is. We know that change starts with mindset. Our minds search for meaning.

We need to evolve our descriptor of D&I to better reflect and convey a clear purpose with meaning relevant to the needs of this decade.


There was recognition of the great progress made in the last decade with many more organisations creating D&I positions and stating a commitment to D&I. The collective frustration borne from the groups passion to see a shift beyond discussion was well concluded by Mukta Arya of Société General which has the focused ambition in 2020 to move from ‘talking into action’ so that culturally the tenants of diversity and inclusion become ‘a way of being, not just on a to-do list.’

Much like we have seen the concept of Purpose shifting from a “slogan” to a meaningful driver of sustainable performance of an organisation, so will the way in which we include with greater diversity and collaboration.

For Aesara, both topics of Purpose and Inclusivity start with values: how we connect the values of the person with the values of the organisation. What brings a sense of purpose and meaning to the individual, through fulfilling the purpose and vision of the company where they choose to work?

The conclusions

A step change is required for the next wave of progress to unfold. To enable better transparency, trust, leadership and communication around the evolving nuances of D&I topics 3 areas were identified as potential levers of a step change:

1. D&I must be led from the boardroom as an integral driver of the strategy rather than “an add on”. “Currently the risk is D&I being something placed ‘on top of’ business strategy (Poulani).” Currently many D&I strategies are run on quotas, box-ticking, an events and training initiatives approach where leaders abdicate most of the responsibility to HR. D&OI must be embraced and leveraged as the strategic business opportunity that it is.

2. D&I transformation will falter without a coherent strategy aligned with processes, systems & governance that evolves antiquated structures which hinder D&I progress. Too often there is layer of very capable middle management who are sandwiched between the lofty board vision and ambition and the hungry expectation from below to engage or be cynical. The challenge of conflicting agendas, politics, legacy systems and processes can

leave them leading the transformation with one arm tied behind their back. This highlights the need for a holistic plan including the right decisions and alignment between functions, the right tools and empowerment, the right recourses to manage both the intended and the unintended consequences of the desired change.

3. D&I must be supported with learning. Diverse groups need to explore together the benefits and challenges of working with an inclusive mindset learning to leverage diversity as a business driver and critically developing the self-awareness around the nuances of D&I in this decade is imperative.

Equipping leaders and managers to explore the right questions around what’s in it for our team, our people, our clients, our performance and society if we use D&I as a strategic lever for success?

Equipping leaders to address complex unaddressed questions around what happens to the definition ‘’meritocracy’’ within the workplace in the larger landscape of inclusivity

Equipping teams to be conscious of how to collaborate, be agile, efficient and inclusive to drive results

Equipping individuals to better manage their mindset, behaviours and ways of working on good and bad days to consistently live and lead through inclusion.


Whilst there are some indices to measure D&I targets and levels met – such as the GDIB (Global D&I Benchmark) – the ability to articulate and measure the benefits beyond mere statistics is lacking. Knowing these benefits and sharing them was seen to be critical to gaining greater momentum for embedding D & I in any organisation. There is a need to make the benefits of inclusivity more visible and viral.

Jodie asked the question ‘Where does the most benefit to the organisation come from regarding D&I?’

Emma argued that a clear benefit is already being seen. Companies which embrace difference in their values are increasingly attracting the best talent. In this way a clear link to improved company performance will begin to show itself.

How we innovate to measure and cultivate the storytelling of this is of critical importance.


The discussion moved towards being able to define a vision for 2030 – what does success look like?

Some participants felt it was helpful to imagine the idea of D&I being so embedded, having transitioned from conscious to unconscious, that D&I departments would be out of a job.

Others felt this was unlikely as this is a human struggle as old as time, and there will always be a human need to constantly reflect, grow and overcome the unconscious and affiliation bias we all inherently possess.

Jodie picked up on the theme of what will attract Gen Z and Millennials in making career choices. This includes generational re-definitions of motivations and values and a need to ‘allow the next generation to lead this and own it.’ At the same time rather than isolating older generations within the workplace, Gen X and the Boomers, Jodie emphasised that the experience of other generations within organisations was essential in bringing in these changes with pragmatism and learnings from life experience.

A poetic and powerful closing thought came from Connie Liu, who re-iterated the importance of engaging the head, the heart and hand in employees’ sense of ‘who it is they bring to work’ and ‘why’; consciously going beyond the knee-jerk reaction of a ‘what’s in it for me’ response.

We want to close with a provocation to all the leaders of this decade. Let us lead consciously with humanity. With head, heart and hands. To achieve sustainable success from a culture built around a sense of community. With purpose and values providing the north star. With the tenets of inclusion and diversity as key drivers of the strategies for success.

Virtual Think Tank facilitated & summary written by:

Jodie Gibbens Founder, Executive Coach & Consultant, Aesara Partners

Emma Slade – Executive Coach & Consultant, Aesara Partners

Author, Buddhist nun and CEO, Opening Your Heart to Bhutan,


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