Diversity – Are We Making Sustainable Changes? - Emerge UK
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Diversity – Are We Making Sustainable Changes?

At Emerge, we are finding that the Inclusivity and Diversity movement is gaining momentum. For example, 80% or our clients have told us that this is an issue that they intend to address in some way this year. To be honest I am not quite sure why the other 20% aren’t looking at it as well! I am sure, that at some point they will wake up to the scale of the debate going on around them. This is not just about gender parity, it includes the whole wonderfully diverse range of people in the workplace and the need for them to be treated without discrimination and given equal opportunities.

I find that when I run Unconscious Bias workshops and I ask people to cite the diverse groups of people that they work with the list ends up being a lot longer than you may originally think. It ranges from the more obvious ones of; race, gender and sexual orientation through to, those who have some kind of neuro-diversity (Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyscalculia, Tourettes), or particular food preferences (veganism). One example of diversity that is often mentioned is whether people drink alcohol or not. This is not necessarily due to religious beliefs, it is often a lifestyle choice and some simply choose not to drink with their work colleagues. In the past many team building events revolved around drinking in the bar at the end of the day. This led to many of the people who did not want to drink being excluded or treated differently for “not joining in”!

We are repeatedly asked two questions;

As everyone searches for the holy grail of inclusivity and diversity excellence, I am constantly asked two questions:

“Who is getting this right?”


“How do we really change behaviour?”

Our focus is generally on inclusion and how to create the right culture, but today I thought I would take a look at some of the diversity stats and see what is happening in other organisations.

I thought an interesting place to start would be with those organisations who stand in judgement over whether we are treating people fairly or unfairly.  So, I took a look at the Courts and Tribunals Judicial Diversity Statistics 2018 and the review by the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon. The review was on the published figures in April 2018

In his report Sir Ernest Ryder stated that he was encouraged to see that the number of female court judges, tribunal judges and non-legal tribunal members had increased; that around half of court judges aged under 50 are female.  Nearly all judges are aged 40 or over.  Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation among those judges was comparable to that of the working age general population for that age band.

However, they also recognised that there is still progress to be made and they have set out steps to take over the next 12 months to reach a more diverse pool of lawyers with a focus on attracting new talent and supporting career progression.

According to research by the Guardian, some groups such as the police and military, are still decades away from becoming as ethnically diverse as the population they serve. Projections suggest it will take the police in England and Wales 34 years before the ranks are reflective of today’s population, let alone the population of 2052! Tola Munro, president of the National Black Police Association, said the findings showed that while progress had been made, there was still resistance to change.

And they are not alone in their struggle, many organisations have great intentions and robust policies but are still reporting difficulties in moving to a more diverse and inclusive culture.

So why is it so difficult for us to embrace diversity?  The answer lies in the fact that we all have many unconscious biases that can be really difficult to recognise and override.  That It is no surprise, when we consider how our brains work. Early in our evolution we were programmed to scan an environment and notice threats (a threat being anything that was ‘different’ to us), which meant that our unconscious biases were helpful to survival.  Our brains really haven’t evolved that much, so our automatic brain, which generally overrides our conscious brain, needs some help to understand how to process information differently so that we can behave differently.  This can take a significant amount of time.

A very early, but good example of how our bias comes into play is the example of the Boston Orchestra who led the way in changing sexism in orchestras.  In the ‘70s the as few as 5% of people in orchestras were women. By the ‘80s, 10% of the people in an orchestra were women, by 1997 they were at 25% and today they are up to 30%. So how did they make these changes?

One answer was “blind” auditions.  They introduced a black screen between the musician and the panel when the musician was playing. In this way the bias towards men was reduced but the percentages did not change as expected. They then realised that the auditions were held in rooms with hard wooden floors. It was therefore easy (even subconsciously) to determine from the sound of the footsteps whether the person entering was a man or a woman. By adding a thick carpet for the musician to walk across they were able to eliminate the sound of the footsteps, allowing them to focus unbiasedly on the quality of the music being played. Once this happened the percentages in the orchestras began to change more rapidly.

So, our automatic brain needs to change the way we think, which means a concerted effort to reshape our muscle memory mass – and then we need to work hard at changing our behaviour.  There was a big debate last year about whether Unconscious Bias training really did work and I certainly would agree that simply running a workshop to understand how we are biased towards people will not make the difference. Awareness is useful but to create a true organisational behaviour shift we need to identify practical actions to take in the workplace. Examples could be; rewarding people who behave appropriately, offering support and feedback to people to help them change behaviour and implementing the sanctions for people who deliberately refuse to change.

Micro inequities happen in huge numbers in the workplace on a daily basis. These are the things that we need to help people recognise and eliminate.  Getting together to discuss everyday examples in a non-judgemental environment is the simplest way to begin making the changes.  As a strong believer in “positive intent”, I think that once people recognise the daily interactions they have that could potentially demonstrate discrimination and make people others feel excluded, they will “want” to make changes. Sometimes they may need a little help in understanding what those changes could be and some support in making them happen, but I have seen that when groups of motivated people work together great things can be achieved.


Emerge Development Consultancies are experts in Inclusivity and Diversity working with many major organisations to implement strategy, change behaviour and reduce bias.

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