Diversity can produce dividends.

Recently I was with a large group of staff discussing the positive aspects of their work culture. They were emphatic about one thing: ‘We are a very diverse group.’ Indeed, there were men and women, old and young, Asian and African (and the latter from varied cultural backgrounds).1287x929_vodafone_logo

That was the plus side, but when we pushed the question ‘so what?’ far enough we discovered a more helpful insight. ‘The problem is,’ they said, ‘we don’t derive any value from that diversity either for the company for ourselves.’ They saw themselves working in compartments, despite being in an open plan environment. That was no surprise to me: without the right culture an open plan environment is one of the most threatening places to work.

This group regretted that the flavours of their diversity weren’t creating a more exciting workplace or better ideas for the business. This is a point that is becoming more widely acknowledged globally.

Big brand Vodafone has been on an almost 10-year journey to make the company more inclusive and diverse.The telecoms giant began to prioritise diversity in 2008, when Vittorio Colao took the helm as global CEO. He started by improving working conditions for female employees, as he wanted to make the company a more attractive place to work for women. Vodafone now has generous maternity leave policies that include a 30-hour week on full pay for returning mums.They’ve now gone further with an active campaign to bring women who have taken a longer career break back to the workforce. Vodafone is targeting 1,000 such women worldwide over three years — half in call centres and shops and the other half in managerial positions. The company feels there’s a deep pool of skilled workers who are trying to return to work after up to a decade out.

“We don’t take diversity lightly. We don’t just talk about it, we look at policies. We also look at employee education, senior sponsorship, as well as our customers and the role it can play in our advertising,” Sharon Doherty, global organisation and people development director at Vodafone, told the UK’s Marketing Week magazine.

Sure enough, Vodafone’s focus on a more diverse staff has now spread into the brand’s marketing. Positioning the Vodafone brand as a place where minorities are welcome. Operating as it does in many markets more liberal than our own, Vodafone has openly reached out to LGBT+ consumers. It has created inclusive advertising campaigns in various European markets. In Italy, one ad featured a same-sex kiss as part of the #powertokisses campaign, while a German campaign made a young transsexual the star.

Here in East Africa brands have many other opportunities to address specific audiences without breaking local laws. But the best place to begin the diversity drive and encourage greater inclusivity is probably within your own company culture.


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside


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