I was delighted to have been asked to speak and give the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Excellence in Diversity Awards in Leeds last week – what a great celebration it was!
Congratulations to everyone who was nominated – and the winners should be very proud… and especially to Karin Woodley, Chief Executive of Cambridge House who was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. I salute you!… and what a superb speech you made… “fighting for social justice is our moral obligation”…
Here’s what I said:
I am very pleased to hear that there have been so many excellent submissions for these Awards this year – and that the numbers are rising year on year. This message should go our loud and clear into our society which sadly, is too often characterised as narrow-minded and prejudiced. Not true. Respect, diversity and inclusion are thriving.
What tonight proves is that many many companies and organisations ‘get it’ – they understand the argument that diversity is good for their organisations and good for business – and they want to tap into the strength of the diversity of our society.
At the risk of preaching to the converted, let’s just revisit why investing in diversity can give organisations and companies a competitive edge and bottom-line advantage… three simple reasons:
- because they can attract the most talented people to work for them
- because they can retain staff who go through life-changing experiences
- because they can attract customers who might not shop with them.
I am glad to say that Changing Faces has worked with many companies across the UK to help them embed respect for ‘face equality’ and so enable them to attract people with unusual faces into their workplace, retain them if they go through a difficult experience – like a facial cancer or a Bell’s palsy – and ensure that people like me get excellent customer service… and aren’t asked ‘Cor, what happened to you?’ at the check-out desk. Yes it happens.
But we also run into the usual excuses – ‘we are dealing with gender equality this year’ and ‘we are fully trained on disability so don’t worry’. Sadly, it is often not until one of our users reports a bad incident that companies are impelled to do something.
Similarly, in 15 years of Dining with a Difference events, I have been amazed at how the top Boards of big companies frequently do not ‘get it’… They fail to see that disability, disfigurement and diversity are important strategic business issues not just annoying HR problems. Dining has lots of light-bulb moments for them…
I think there is one factor that marks out organisations and companies that ‘get it’ and those that don’t – they have a champion in a senior or high-level position who gets it and is determined to embed ‘it’ into the very fabric of the organisation.
A classic example was a major bank for which we ran a Dining event… we were told that many of the top Board were coming and were tasked with getting one of them as champion… at the end of the evening, the Finance Director got up to say ‘thank you’ and completely unprompted, announced that he’d put his hand up to be the company’s Disability Champion.
He kept his word and went on to become the Chief Executive. The whole company’s approach to disability – and diversity across the board too – changed.
So my message to you this evening is actually a challenge: I task you all with finding and nurturing the next generation of champions on diversity and inclusion in your organisations to take the embedding up to the next level.